Can a small business go global? Can you maintain a small team and still reach and serve your ideal customers around the world? The answer is YES, and when you plan accordingly, you may find that expanding your brand's boundaries, and making it a global small business, was one of the best decisions you ever made.
However (there's that word), there are a number of considerations small business owners need to make before breaking geographical borders. A misstep in this area could seriously damage your brand's reputation.
And so, I have created a checklist to help you make the best impressions possible, despite language, cultural and geographical boundaries.
Is your Small Business Ready for Global Commerce? Tick the Boxes
If you're thinking about going global with your young brand, you're in the best possible position. When you create your brand strategy—before you close even one sale—is the point in time when you should be thinking about the possibility of conducting business internationally. That’s because the colour red has a different meaning in South Africa than it does here. Your business name or strapline could translate in a way that's not flattering to your business. So before you start doing business in your own country, think about your ideal customers, where (around the globe) they live, and consider those geographical possibilities before you name your brand, choose its colours, design its visuals and develop its unique way of communicating. Offending your target audience, no matter where they are, is not a good way to expand your small business.
So, with that said, let's get on with your checklist:
- Determine in what countries your ideal customers live. You have created your ideal customer profile, and you know that person inside and out. Now, ask yourself where in the world people who fit that description live. Maybe Canadians have a unique problem you can solve. Or, maybe Irish teachers or Australian mothers fit that bill. I'm not going to lie: this is going to require loads of research and lots of conversation with those who are close to the problem you're planning to solve.
- Purchase a domain name that's not geographically limiting. You can purchase a [.uk] domain name, for instance; however, that may lead to some confusion, and even limitation, when you expand. You can purchase other, geography-specific URLs as you expand, but remember that you'll have to manage more than one website, you'll have trouble developing a reputation as a global brand, and your search results will be negatively affected. Instead, start out with one that isn't limiting, like [.com], [.org], if possible.
- Choose colours carefully. Red is powerful and positive in India; however, in South Africa it's indicative of suffering and bloodshed. Blue is a masculine colour in the U.S., and a feminine colour in China. Yellow indicates happiness and sunshine for most countries; not in France, though. There, it symbolises cowardice and jealousy. And then there's green: money and life in western cultures, infidelity in China, eternal life in other eastern cultures, and death in South America. These are just a few examples. As you can see, it's important to know what messages you're sending with colour before you expand into new territories.
- Know how your messages translate in your target foreign languages. When you choose words to represent your brand (business name, strapline, marketing messages, etc.), it's important to check translations…because as you may already know, language translations are rarely accurate, word-for-word. For instance, KFC's "Finger-Lickin' Good" translates to "We'll Eat Your Fingers Off" in Chinese. Coors' "Turn it Loose" translates to "Suffer from Diarrhea" in Spanish. And we can't forget when Electrolux (a Scandinavian company) launched its campaign in the US, which resulted in "Nothing Sucks like an Electrolux."
- Hire a competent translator who knows the language and the culture. Translation bots are rarely good ideas…if you want to make good impressions and communicate clearly, that is. Language options, and maybe even different versions of your website, will be necessary if you're dealing in countries with people who don't speak your native language. Avoid damage to your global reputation by hiring a professional translator who specialises in both your native language and the one you're targeting, as well as the cultures attached to both. Sending a message that touches on a cultural faux pas can mean localised death to a brand.
- Pay attention to slang and dialect, not just language. If you're doing business in Australia, Canada, the US, and the UK, for instance, you might think that writing in your own English vernacular is acceptable; however, that isn't always the case. All four of those geographical areas use a slightly different type of English, and when you write strictly in UK English, for instance, you could run the risk of alienating some groups. You can address this by making it clear that you operate from one central location and serve other countries (like I do), or you can create different versions of content for each geographical area.
- Ensure that your ecommerce platform can accept foreign currency. If you're selling products on your website, prices should be displayed in respective currencies for every buyer, no matter their location. Certainly, currencies can be exchanged in the shopping cart; however, many customers will navigate away if they are unable to determine the actual value of the product, or because they are hesitant to make an international purchase.
- Offer the payment options that each geographical audience prefers. Buyers in the US use credit cards on a regular basis; however, buyers in other countries may prefer PayPal or direct debit. There are lots of options, and knowing what each geographical market favours is important to ecommerce success.
I trust this global small business checklist will get you started on the right path toward global expansion with your small business. Strategy is key, as it will be difficult to make changes (or save your brand's face) after cultural missteps are made.
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