7 steps to create your international business plan

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Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to go global. Now how do you get started?

First, determine your company’s export readiness by taking this nine question quiz created by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The website calculates your readiness score and provides additional resource links to help overcome any corporate weaknesses.

Next, develop a plan. Stanley Pfrang, Market Development Director – India, the Middle East and Africa, WEDC, and Jen Pino-Gallagher, Bureau Director, International Market Development, DATCP, shared a seven step plan at a program I recently attended.

  1. Proactively develop a plan. Some companies reactively dive into the international market after receiving a product or service inquiry from overseas. A better strategy is to first think through planning steps two-seven to help avoid costly missteps.
  2. Conduct market research. Is there a need or demand for your product or service? Is market expansion feasible? Who are your competitors? What financial and legal paperwork is required? Do your current customers also operate in global markets? If so, what can you learn from them about opportunities and potential pitfalls?
  3. Entering new markets. Who can help you distribute your product? Do you need storage space? Will you need a manufacturing partner located in your target destination?
  4. Logistics. How important is your delivery speed? The decision will help you select transportation carriers and/or delivery routes.
  5. Payments. Determine what currency you will accept. Will you sell in U.S. dollars and/or foreign currency? Will you offer a discount if payment is received in U.S. dollars? Will you accept letters of credit? Will you require a down payment before production begins on goods or services?
  6. Visit the market before entering it. How do your competitors operate? How will your customers use your products or services as compared to those of your competitor? Trade shows are a good, inexpensive resource to help you see market potentials and downsides.
  7. Resources. Explore state and federal government online resources. Join an industry association knowledgeable about international trade. Talk to customers and maybe even competitors to learn from their mistakes and wise decisions.

After sharing the seven step plan, Pfrang, Pino-Gallagher and other program panelists offered additional tips.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about companies interested in your product. How long have they been in business? Obtain customer and vendor references. A face-to-face meeting to establish a relationship before doing business is best and can be done using Skype or a similar internet connection if necessary.

When seeking a trade consultant, hire a native of the foreign market you wish to enter because she will better understand the market needs and difficulties. At a minimum, hire someone with English as his second language.

Never automatically dismiss a lead that comes your way. Always explore the possibilities. It may lead to big things.

Be ruthlessly conservative in planning when internally strategizing your approach to new markets and opportunities that arise. Remember to include the impact on staff resources, time zone differences and product distribution methods.

Finally, read Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands, a book that provides insights into business culture and customs in many different international markets.

So now it’s your turn to share advice. What resources do you use? What wisdom have you developed through experience? I’d love to hear from you. You can leave your comments below or you can reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook.

About Delora Newton

Delora Newton is the Vice President, Advocacy for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. She has over 20 years of experience in state and local public policy advocacy and is passionate about building a business climate that supports economic growth and protects community assets. Follow her on Twitter: @Delora4Biz or G+

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One Response to 7 steps to create your international business plan

  1. George Hagenauer November 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    I run a small time web business in the evening, and have been operating globally for over a decade.
    If you have any type of web presence for your product, you quickly find yourself doing global sales on a small scale in terms of units – i.e. single items – though not necessarily on a small scale in terms of income- about 30% of my sales are out of country -that is where my strongest customers are (and oddly in the countries with universal health care and some of the highest tax rates). Many local banks are not set up to handle those type of transactions economically so I use various on line payment systems. You lose 3-4% but it is a lot simpler than any other option. I learned this the hard way when my community bank took 4 months to finalize a simple overseas bank transfer from the Philippines. For screening customers I am basically linked to other people working in the same type of business. We share mainly which customers to avoid, scammers and the like. Likewise I have come to learn a lot about what countries to ship to an which to avoid as well as the various headaches of different import customs and other processes.
    It can be a tricky process but a lot of local small businesses are doing it . In terms of language barriers – if you are not dealing with English speaking customers there are various free translation services on line –
    In todays world though you need these markets – Wisconsin is the weakest state I have for sales and overseas is by far the most profitable.

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