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Testing International Waters

Find out if your business is ready for the global marketplace.

Q: If I were looking to expand a company globally, what would be the best way to go about researching how and to whom I would want to market my company? Where can I obtain the data I need in order to know whether I should venture into the global market with my business?

A: The biggest question you have to ask yourself is this: Where will you find prospects who need what you offer, can afford it and are willing to pay for it? Foreign markets may be the answer, but you can't know for sure until you do a fair amount of homework.

Your first step should be to contact the Trade Information Center (TIC) at the U.S. Department of Commerce, a comprehensive resource on all federal government export assistance programs. Call TIC's toll-free number, (800) USA-TRADE, to speak to an international trade specialist and get advice on how to locate and use government programs, sources of general market information, and basic export counseling. The TIC's Web site has FAQs concerning international trade and information on trade missions to overseas markets where you can meet with potential distributors and buyers. You can also request a package of information that includes a list of publications to guide you through export transactions, trade leads and information on export financing, and supply sources for market reports and country information.

For even more information on specific countries and regions, international conferences, trade shows, business events and laws, visit Michigan State University's Center for International Business Education and Research . On a recent visit, one click on "global" revealed links to an extensive array of the sites offering reports and analyses from such groups as American Express Small Business Services and the World Bank.

Most businesses adding international components to their marketing programs use two principal strategies. First, they establish a relationship with a business or individual in each of their targeted foreign markets, often with help from some of the resources mentioned above. Then they carefully craft a Web site to make their products and services available to their new customers. Once you've identified your target markets, you'll need to create a site that's accessible in the appropriate languages and meets the unique needs of your international customers.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.
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