There are 30 million left-handed people in the United States, yet when left-handers John and Carolyn Williams tried to purchase kitchen utensils, baseball gloves, stationery and other items geared toward southpaws, all they ended up with was a lot of frustration. The Williamses decided to create an online mail order catalog--The Left Hand--to sell such products, and after only one year in business, they generated $65,000 in sales. "We do all our selling on the Internet," says John, the company's CFO.
"Initially we focused on selling [to the United States and Canada] because we were reacting to demand," John says. But the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, couple quickly realized having an Internet presence can create an international momentum of its own.
"We found that you have to be proactive when an opportunity occurs," says John, who adds that about 10 percent of sales come from abroad--mostly Canada, but also from Australia, England, Iceland, New Zealand and South Africa.
To take advantage of the international opportunities that were coming their way via the Internet, the Williamses began including basic global marketing information in their literature, including the phrase "We ship worldwide." Then they began to deliberately court international customers by listing their business's Web site on all the international Internet search engines they could find.
Learning how to do business globally was relatively simple for the couple. "We ship through UPS and contacted them for their information booklet on how to ship internationally," says John. "We also went to the government's Web site on customs to learn about getting an export license."
While they didn't encounter any problems directly attributable to running an international business from home, John says there were basic business skills they needed to master. "It's really important to understand what forms are necessary for a business owner to use, what documents you need, and what products you can and cannot ship overseas," says John. "It's almost like starting a separate business. You have to know exactly what you're doing before you do it." Perhaps that's the key to any small business successfully operating in the world of international commerce--knowledge.
The Left Hand Inc., P.O. Box 3263, Bethlehem, PA 18017, http://www.thelefthand.com