A proactive approach will stand first-time exporters in good stead
Although most business owners want to export, many are deterred by perceived business barriers.To help you build your business overseas, here are some easy steps you can follow.
Do your research
Before embarking on any journey, you need to know where you are going and what to do when you get there. Planning for overseas business is just the same. It is important to ask a number of questions to deter- mine if there is a market out there with people who are will- ing and able to buy your goods. The key areas to research are the four Cs:
Choose your countries: where is there most likely to be a demand for my product or service? What is the state of the economy and what are the general rules of business? Are there contacts who could offer help/support?
Find your customers: what does my customer profile look like and how many potential customers are there in this market? How do customers in this country like to buy and be served? Which sites do they visit, what kind of media do they consume and who are their key influencers?
Nail your cost: what should I charge for my goods and services
Using the web can give your business true global reach services in this market, bearing in mind supply and demand? What are the costs of getting my product or service to this market and delivering follow-up customer support? Taking into account my costs and the level at which I can charge, will I make a profit?
Identify your competition: who else is servicing the customers I have identified? How do I stand out from the competition - that is,what is my USP and why will customers buy from me compared with existing suppliers? Is there potential for a tie-up with others offering similar products and services?
To get to your answers, you need to undertake reactive and proactive research.
On the reactive side, ask yourself: are you already re- ceiving a number of visitors to your site, or orders from cer- tain countries? You can check the origin of site traffic using your site?s analytics tool or use Google Analytics (www.goo gle.com/analytics), which is free. If you are seeing high levels of traffic from a country that is not your own, this spells international trade potential.
React in a positive way to customers who ask for orders to be shipped overseas or for you to service their contacts, friends and family in other parts of the world. Can you de- liver? The answer should be ?yes?.
Proactive research involves sourcing primary and second- arydatabycarryingoutre- search, either in-house or by outsourcing to a market research company, freelancer in the host country, virtual PA, student or intern.
If the plan is to sell your product or service online, you need to be selling to a country or countries that boast high levels of online spending and an ease with digital dealings. The digital economy rankings by the Economist Intelligence Unit assess the quality of a country?s ICT infrastructure and allocate scores based on the levels at which consumers and businesses use digital services.
Research links for costs
Use the Google Profit Calculator to work out the bottom line and gain confidence that exporting will be a profitable venture: www.google.co.uk/ intl/en/exportadviser/the- bottom-line
Check out the costs of travelling, as and when required: www.xe.com/tec/table.shtml
Research links for competition
Visit forums and sites where your potential customers gath- er and read up on the local competition. Locate these forums through Google searches and following links posted on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Trade bodies and international groups can also play an important role in assisting you. Organisations such as JETRO, representing Japan, the French Chamber of Commerce and the China-Britain Business Council, have a deep knowledge of market conditions and customer potential.
Source primary or first-hand data by conducting a survey or posing questions via social media channels. Handy survey tools include Surveymonkey.com and Wufoo.com. Social media channels include Twit- ter.com, Facebook.com and LinkedIn.com.
The more you can define your international audience, theloweryourmarketing costs. Know your new audi- ence well and refine your approach. Essentially, what you are looking for is evidence that you have a product that is priced right and fit for purpose for a market of customers prepared to buy from you, rather than the competition.
Promoting your product
If the research points to a posi- tive result, it is time to start promoting your presence. When researching prospective countries, take into account the level of interest that coun- try has in strengthening trade relationships with you.
Having identified your new markets and countries, the next step is to get noticed. And the easiest way to raise your profile on a worldwide scale is to have a precise understanding of your product or service, and the audience to whom you wish to appeal. In other words, the best way to promote yourself (and keep costs as low as possible) is to focus on your niche and build global reach.
To do this in a timely and cost-effective manner, you can create content and micro-pub- lish. I am talking about content that defines your brand and tells your story. Customerslike to receive content in a number of sensory ways; they like to be informed and entertained , they like to see, read, listen and watch.
Affordable technology means you can now appeal to all their senses, no matter where customers are located.
Emma Jones is founder of Enterprisenation.com and author of Go Global: How to Take Your Business to the World. The book, from which this excerpt is taken, is avail- able to buy online at Bright- wordpublishing.com and Amazon.co.uk for e17.99. Jones will speak at the first in a series of 14 exporting events, which will be hosted by Ulster Bank in locations around Ireland. The Business Live series will kick off on November 16 in Riddel Hall, Belfast