International business used to be the realm of only specialty firms and corporate juggernauts that had the reach and resources to cross oceans with their product or service. Entrepreneurs have a difficult enough time domestically, but once a company goes global, the stakes – and the difficulties – are raised. The rigors of international business have been discussed endlessly – and overcome – by global businesspeople such as Cecilia Ibru, Oceanic Bank representative.
But now, the Internet, social media, global marketing and electronic payments have made the world a smaller place. Even smaller businesses can now entertain realistic, plausible global ambitions.
Online Marketing: Social Media and Censorship
Social media has dominated so much of American marketing over the last several years, it’s tough to imagine a marketing strategy without it. However, inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary censorship laws dominate the online habits of much of the world.
China – a major American trading partner – for example, bars its citizens from using Google, Twitter and Facebook, which are ubiquitous in the U.S. In fact, China only recently agreed to allow LinkedIn, but under the subjugation of local censorship laws. For American businesses that are used to utilizing social media to target consumers, it is imperative to remember that a unique online strategy must be tailored to each country and each set of standards.
Online Marketing: Translation
For most of the world’s history, doing business internationally meant a constant struggle against language barriers. Business without communication is no business at all, and in a big world filled with many cultures, languages and dialects, comprehensive translation was an expense that could be met only by companies with major resources.
For businesses with an online presence – which should include essentially every business looking for overseas customers – your website can appear in the native language of the person accessing it. There is sophisticated translation software available for purchase, but there are also free widgets such as Google Translate that can make any website appear in the native language. Having – and testing – a translation tool that makes a website appear in the language of the user is paramount to international success.
The Telephone Still Rules the World
Much of the Western world has reliable access to the Internet, but that is not the case for much of the human population. Therefore, reaching consumers overseas still involves maintaining effective telephone communication, which can be challenging. Time differences, unique and sometimes conflicting regulations and, of course, accent and language barriers are all problems that are inevitably going to come up.
With international call forwarding, businesses can reroute incoming calls to a single location in the United States – or any country with a safe, secure, reliable telecom network. Some businesses choose a local number to provide regional familiarity. Even though the emergence of minutes-based mobile devices have negated much of the practical need for toll-free numbers, many businesses still choose 800 numbers when doing business internationally. Others use vanity number (a toll-free number that spells a product or company, such as 1-800-FLOWERS).
Call forwarding is popular for global businesses because it lets the business move beyond the limitations of their host country, which may have limited, antiquated or state-run infrastructure.
A universal international freephone number, or UIFN, is a toll-free number with an added digit. With this 11-digit format, businesses get a modified number that can be used anywhere in the world without disrupting a vanity number. For example, 1-800-FLOWERS would become +8000-FLOWERS. This ensures that your recognizable vanity number is not corrupted and your branding not disturbed, no matter who is placing the call, or from where.
International Payment Systems
Receiving payments from customers overseas can be complicated and risky – but it doesn’t have to be. There are a number of online payment systems that transcend nationality, culture and language. Knowing the basics about the different systems is imperative to choosing which one is right for your growing business.
ACH, which stands for “automatic clearing house”, is a system that allows transfers from credit and debit accounts. This lets customers make payments from their bank accounts for a range of necessitates, from bills to purchases. ACH is an excellent choice for businesses that receive consistent, recurring payments.
Merchant accounts are specialty bank accounts that allow merchants to process credit and debit cards. This allows merchants to handle plastic without employing a separate company.
Payment gateways such as PayPal are third parties that act as middlemen. This is an excellent choice for businesses looking for global reach. Since so much fraud is based overseas, both parties may be reluctant to hand over personal financial data to someone they don’t know or trust. Payment gateways provide security by vetting and verifying the data from both parties.
Payment processors are companies employed by merchants to do exactly what their name implies: process payments. Payment processors provide fraud protraction for parties on both sides of the payment.
Going global is difficult and challenging, but if accomplished, international enterprise is an endeavor that is rewarding beyond the wildest dreams of most entrepreneurs. Communication is paramount, both online and via telephone. The business owner must recognize that his or her social media strategy will not necessarily work in other countries with different rules. Language barriers must be mitigated through accurate and affordable translation, and the proprietor must be able to accept payments safely and securely. Once these building blocks are in place, even the little guy can go global if he dreams big.