If the Tears for Fears song is true, everybody wants to rule the world. OK, maybe it's not exactly world domination you're after, but rather a world presence for your company. How do you know when to take your business global? First, ask yourself if your startup is running well enough domestically to give you time to focus on an international presence, says Stephanie Frank, business expert and author of The Accidental Millionaire: Leaping From Chance to Mastery in the Game of Life. "Delve into what you might need, at a minimum, to do business in a foreign country," she says. "Maybe you need education on language or business customs. Make sure you plan first to learn some of the foreign ways."
Your next big task is to determine whether or not your product will translate overseas. "Just because you have a product that sells well [in the U.S.] doesn't mean it's going to sell in other countries," says Frank. "Think about how your product or service needs to be changed." Consider the clothing or shoe size translations. Does your product have to be retooled or rescaled? Then, says Frank, do a cost analysis. Is your product affordable in the local currency? You might find your bargain U.S. product would have to retail at a higher foreign price point, taking you out of the running in that market.
Just ask Mark Chaplin, who brought Disc-Go-Tech products from his Langley, British Columbia, location to 50 countries around the world, including all of Europe, Egypt, Japan and South Africa. Manufacturing a high-tech machine to repair compact discs, Chaplin took his business global in 2003. His plan was to find an overseas distributor who could penetrate the European marketplace. "The biggest challenge in working with distributors is [navigating] different languages and time zones," says Chaplin, 32. "With our European [distributors], we have a biannual meeting [over there]. We really try to keep in touch with them." Today, the company boasts sales of $5.3 million.
Finally, don't forget the internet as a key tool to research your company's international potential. Go to the international Amazon, eBay, Google and Yahoo! sites to get a feel for the products and price points of your market. If done right, says Frank, your international push can "be a huge source of revenue."