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The International Entrepreneur ? The Growing War for Global Talent

global talent, global HR, international trade

I see it expanding every day?

  • Engineering teams sent to implement a project on the other side of the world.
  • A medical student from a developing country applying for residency after graduation to ensure a higher quality of life for herself and her family.
  • A multinational company offering a rising star employee the chance for an overseas assignment to gain key experience
  • Governments trying to either slow their ?brain drain? effect or recruit talented foreign workers

Never before in the history of the world have so many people decided to live and work outside of their country of origin. This means that talented professionals can move to where the best jobs are. But at the same time, there?s a trend to search the world for the best talent and then employ locally ? essentially moving the job to the talent. A quick view of heavy-hitting multinational, IBM?s career website shows this in full view. IBM and many of its peers are opening up to the wider talent pool by offering extraordinary numbers of remote-based positions.

It?s challenging to get worldwide numbers on immigration. But here?s an example: In the U.S. alone, immigration has reached 41.3 million people representing over 13% of U.S. residents. [source]? On a global level, the Economist reports the highest countries in 2014 losing talent aka the ?Brain Drain? to immigration were:

1) Myanmar

2) Bulgaria, Serbia & Venezuela

5) Moldova & Yemen

7) Burundi

8) Croatia

9) Haiti & Kyrgyzstan

11) Algeria, Lebanon, Mauritania & Ukraine

15) Chad & Slovakia

 

Those doing best at keeping their talent home?

1) Switzerland & Qatar

3) United States

4) Finland & Norway

6) UAE

7) Hong Kong

8) Singapore

9) Germany & Malaysia

11) Luxembourg & United Kingdom

13) Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Netherlands and Sweden

 

All of this comes back to one basic question:

 

How do we come out on the winning side of this war for global talent?

 

I?m going to break it down to three levels: country, company and individual.

 

For countries?

Examples to follow: ? If you want to win the war for global talent, first focus on your own citizenry. What will they need to compete with the world?s best minds? They?ll need a strong education foundation.

They?ll also need infrastructure like broadband, transportation and other foundations upon which to build new companies as entrepreneurs. Speaking of which, the 24 highest-rated countries for entrepreneurial activity ? none of them are on the brain drain list. That?s no coincidence, especially some of their neighboring countries are hemorrhaging talent. Cultivating entrepreneurship can engage many smart homegrown talent. For the record, the U.S. doesn?t crack the top entrepreneurial activity list either.

Examples to avoid: ??? One of the worst mistakes to make is restricting smart, talented people from immigrating to your country. The United States, for instance, is a university destination for thousands of bright talent from around the globe. But instead of trying to engage those graduates to stay on and take jobs (or create startups) in our country, we often promote their return to their home countries. Australia and Canada are not making that mistake.

 

For companies?

Examples to follow: In the past few years smaller, agile companies can access talent from anywhere just like their larger competitors. Free communication and low-cost collaboration tools make virtual teams a common fixture in business.

Now SMEs can take it a step further and hire employees regardless of national boundaries. There is a new service called GEO ? Global Employment Outsourcing that allows a service provider to be a company?s Employer of Record in country. This means that you pay to have your employee hired in Finland and that employee is paid in local currency, complies with all local employment laws and practices, and is billed back to you. It?s a game changer because it doesn?t require having a local subsidiary set up in Finland.

Examples to avoid: Those company leaders who assume that the best talent is locally grown will lose the global talent war. Xenophobia and closed market options tend to lead to a more limited geographic market too.

 

For individuals?

Examples to follow: To be a part of the global talent pool, you just need to keep options open. Nowadays you can search job listing sites for remote-based positions and jobs on the other side of the world. Jobs that directly involve trade and global markets tend to on average 10% more than jobs that are domestic only. And experience with international roles can pave the way to career advancement. We live in exciting times and you can be a part of it (if you?re not already).

Examples to avoid: If you want to work on the sidelines of the war for global talent, don?t update your skills to match what international employers need. Don?t network and for gosh sakes don?t learn any cross-cultural skills or languages.

 

We live in times of great global changes. Countries, companies and individual workers all have choices to embrace the shifts in world economic dynamics or resist them. I hope you?ll choose to see this as a tremendous opportunity for all!

For more Tips and Tools on International Business, join the International Trade Tribe.

The International Entrepreneur ? International Business Lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

Like most professionals in technology fields, I?m a bit fascinated by Mark Zuckerberg. Really, who could have predicted the meteoric rise of Facebook twelve years ago when it was just started? He?s not one to build the same wisdom-drenched following like Richard Branson or Guy Kawasaki.?But the day he put his newly acquired Mandarin Chinese on display at Tsinghua University in Beijing, he had my full attention.

China doesn?t even allow Facebook access for its citizens. And here was one of the titans of American technology industries not only speaking Chinese, but using all of the Chinese cultural savviness of a well-coached leader. As I watched this video for the first time, I thought of three things:

  1. I had clearly underestimated Mark Zuckerberg as a world-class business leader.
  2. Facebook would eventually enter the Chinese market, breaking down communication barriers on its way.
  3. I needed to double up my efforts to master Mandarin Chinese.

Impressive as this interview may be, China still doesn?t open its doors wide to Facebook or other social media platforms that aren?t easily censored. It?s a political issue and one that is difficult for most Westerners to understand. Why would Chinese citizens allow this censorship to continue? Why would they allow themselves to be ruled by a small group of unelected party officials? There are several reasons, but the main one is rooted in Chinese culture: harmony. But I digress away from our topic.

Speaking of difficult to understand? just this past week, Mark Zuckerberg was speaking at the Mobile World Congress and he told about Facebook?s recent ruling in India?s courts. Facebook wanted to offer free Internet to Indian citizens. But the courts saw it differently. Facebook was not allowed to charge different pricing for services, even if one of those prices was nothing. The Indians felt that there was a price ? preferential access to Facebook and their partners? sites. It became a net neutrality issue.

Mark Zuckerberg, India, International Trade,

Image Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Business Insider

If you?ve ever read my blog before, you know that I give what I hope is helpful advice to small and medium-sized companies expanding into global markets. My focus is on providing tips and tools to help companies avoid the most common and costly mistakes. Facebook is by anyone?s definition a massive company with extensive financial resources beyond 99% of all companies.

Here are the International Business Lessons for the rest of us:

  1. ?Every Country is Different?. That?s actually Mr. Zuckerberg?s exact quote about the Indian court ruling. That may sound incredibly obvious, but every week I talk with at least one company leader who finds this basic fact incredulous. Recently a sales VP I talked with couldn?t imagine that?since?various countries negotiate differently that he should raise his prices in markets where locals would expect to negotiate a larger price discount. International business is a pattern of learn, adapt and move forward.
  2. When it?s important, take the long view. Facebook will never give up trying to access the Chinese market. That said, they will also never hopefully give up their stance on freedom from censorship.
  3. Creative problem solving is a core international business skill. If at first you don?t succeed, it?s time to stop, regroup, figure out what went wrong, and then figure out another way. That?s what Facebook is doing in India and in China. That?s what successful companies of all sizes do to win new global customers and grow to their full potential in world markets.
  4. Cultural understanding matters. In the video of Mr. Zuckerberg?s interview, the reaction is clear ? his Chinese audience is both surprised and delighted. I?m sure he would have had a great interview had he delivered it in English. They would have even appreciated his answers had he not been coached in Chinese cultural etiquette. But in one interview, he captured a nation?s attention for all the right reasons. This goodwill will shorten the time it takes to enter this market.?Few of us have time to learn Mandarin. But we can learn a few basic phrases in any language. We can either research or hire a coach to show our cultural respect to our future customers.

I look forward to seeing what Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team do next to continue to influence culture and technology. And I look forward to the continuing evolution of international markets for the rest of us. Onward & upward.

For more Tips and Tools on International Business, you can join the International Trade Tribe.

The International Entrepreneur ? The Promise and Pitfalls of International Digital Marketing

 

international digital marketing, global marketing, international entrepreeur

Long gone are the days of fluffy feel-good marketing, where brand awareness was the focus and sales was normally the first company contact.

I give the rise of Digital Marketing majority credit for this accountability revolution in our professional discipline. In 2004 I attended an American Marketing Association conference on Strategic Marketing in Chicago. A large international survey had been conducted on marketing and advertising effectiveness. The survey reported that the average marketing/advertising campaign yielded a 3-5% ROI (return on investment). I can?t imagine a marketing department leader today going to his company CEO and not being sacked for delivering such a flagrant failure.

Accelerating the digital marketing revolution further is small & medium-sized companies? access to content management, social media, marketing automation, data analytics and other online tools. Thanks to digitally-enabling products from Google, Hubspot, Infusionsoft, Constant Contact, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and many others, even the smallest company can reach markets faster and more effectively than ever before. Look out, Fortune 1000 ? your size advantage won?t save you from competing against the next generation of rising companies!

More effective tools mean greater accountability for marketing results

I was reminded this week yet again of just how challenging our marketing role can be. I was working with a new partner to develop new website keywords. To those outside marketing, keywords may seem like a minor consideration. It should be easy to list the search engine words that will lead the right audience to our site.

The puzzle we were trying to solve: how to define keywords for a global BPO innovation when no one yet knows that your product or service category even exists? I have literally been thinking of this day and night because this morning I woke up relieved finally figuring out the answer to our riddle. Some marketing challenges take months to solve. But those of us in marketing know how sometimes seemingly small details can make all the difference in outcomes.

My fellow international business expert, Ed Marsh has written extensively about digital marketing and international expansion for B2B companies. His site is also worth reading on this subject.

 

Now onto the international digital marketing pitfalls ?

International business relationship building will never be fully replaced. To all of the introverts out there, I?m sorry. Business relationships with international distributors, strategic partners and large-scale clients require trust building. The best digital marketing in the world can?t close a multimillion dollar enterprise sale or create a high-value strategic partnership.

To bridge cultural communications is to risk occasional embarrassment and misunderstandings on the learning curve. This cannot be done through social media contact, your website or any email campaign. So, marketers, please don?t lose your people skills. You still need them.

Localization to new markets cannot (yet) be fully automated. Today I see many companies disregarding localization as they extend unaltered paid media and other digital channels into same-language markets. Recently a B2B software company I know was paying for Linkedin sponsored links and ads to New Zealand with no real market research. It?s like fumbling in the dark. Motivations, buying patterns and a host of other factors vary greatly by country.

Non-localized digital marketing distorts information about international markets. Many companies assume that the leads from their website represent a country?s market demand. For instance, if Germany represents only 1% of leads, then that the demand for my products or services in that market. Unless you conducted market research and translated/localized for Germany, your market is likely much larger. My general rule of thumb for initial estimation is to take untranslated/unlocalized leads and then multiply it by 9. That said, you don?t know until you research in country. But in my experience, no technology or professional services company (even in the U.S.) has a domestic market over 50% of their total world market. Usually it?s more like 5-20%.

Digital marketing does not replace the need for any of your marketing talent or other resources. Instead, digital marketing often requires repurposing marketing skills. Instead of designing and writing copy for printed brochures, staff often design and write for digital assets and campaigns. Events management now goes beyond trade shows to include webinars and podcasts. Marketers continue to experiment with the best ways to develop conversations in social media and then drive those leads to the right calls to action. And there is always management needed for all external
marketing agencies around the globe. Even with digital tools, it is still a great deal of effort and coordination across channels and geography.

 

In the end, there just is no magic button to push that creates effective international digital marketing. There are great new tools for all company sizes. But it still requires creative problem solving, strong international knowledge and perspective, and a lot of effort and discipline from your marketing team.

I hope you found this article to be helpful. For more Tips and Tools from The International Entrepreneur, I invite you to join our International Business Tribe.

The International Entrepreneur ? Are Your Outsourcing Resources Ready for International?

The International Entrepreneur Asks Are Your Outsourcing Resources Ready for International?
Today?s companies tend to be leaner and more agile than those in years past. They often have to be in order to grow at a rate fast enough to secure the next round of funding or attract the right acquiring firm. How we do business has fundamentally changed to where many company functions like legal, accounting, HR and marketing can be outsourced to a large degree. But what happens when a company decides to enter international markets? Are these BPOs ready to join you on your international business expansion?

Here are some questions to ask your company?s law firm, accounting firm, marketing agency, bank, payroll service and any other business process outsourcing (BPO) providers:

  • Do you have any offices or partners in the markets we are planning to enter?
    If your home market is small like Singapore or Luxembourg, then likely any outside resources are well connected to the rest of the world. They have to be. For larger markets like the U.S. or Brazil, your local bank may not have the international connections or in-house expertise international currency and finance that you?ll need.
  • Are you able to serve staff based overseas with sound advice and similar services in international markets?
    Payroll is a great example of where this applies. Most payroll outsourcing companies choose to serve only their home market. But there are a handful of international payroll companies that handle the complexities of payroll around the world to help keep your company in compliance.
  • Do the contacts that you work with have international experience?
    Sometimes a law firm or accounting firm has the ability to extend to other parts of the world through sister offices or partner firms. But often when a company shifts from one market to global markets, the staff who serve the company may need to change to the more internationally experienced resources.

For all of your company?s business functions directly affected by the international expansion, you can decide between two approaches: Centralized and Decentralized Outsourcing.

Centralized Outsourcing is when your BPO resource has an extensive network of staff or trusted partners in all of your markets. The largest accounting firms fall into this category. And it helps to have one cohesive approach to accounting that leverages the specialized knowledge that these firms typically have in areas like international taxation.

Decentralized Outsourcing makes sense when in-country resources have the best perspective. This is often the case with marketing agencies. If I?m going to concentrate on the German market because I know that German businesses desperately want and need my product, then I should hire a marketing agency based in Germany to spearhead my marketing program there.

Some additional advice:

  • Be sure to ask specific questions of your service providers to learn their fuller international capabilities.
  • Don?t contort around a business relationship to avoid hurting someone?s feelings. Yes, the company founder?s best friend may have done the accounting for the last five years, but unless his firm can handle all of your transactions, currencies and tax reporting, it?s time to move to a fuller service firm.
  • Generally, companies keep all processes tied to their value chain in-house rather than outsourcing them. With keeping that in mind, some companies also choose to redefine their value chain altogether to fit what they actually do best. That?s at least food for thought!

I hope you found this article helpful. If you would like to receive additional tools and tips starting with a Market Entry Checklist, please click here.

The International Entrepreneur ? 5 False Assumptions That Can Hold You Back from Global Success

international assumptions, international business, international marketing

 

I have been fortunate these past 10 years to mentor a promising international marketing professional. ?Quinn? recently went back to university to complete his international MBA. He just accepted a position in Tennessee where he will be building international channels from the ground up in B2B & B2C markets. It?s an exciting opportunity for anyone in our field of international marketing.

Quinn knew where to start when he was hired last month. He worked with engineering to define the product changes required in order to meet international standards (CE, etc.). He developed a selection criteria to pick the right early international markets where the company would focus resources (UAE, Mexico & Australia). He identified a freight forwarder who will provide the right kinds of logistic support. And he started to identify opportunities to meet the right kinds of in-country partners to facilitate business deals and new client acquisition. Quinn seems to be on the right track towards providing a solid foundation to his international expansion.

But others are often not so fortunate. What is much more common to find are one or more of the following false assumptions underlying early-stage expansion decision making. A failed international expansion can scare a company?s leadership for years away from what should be lucrative international markets.

 

Assumption #1: We are focusing on the right markets.

To get to the heart of where this assumption can steer leaders astray, ask the question ?how did we come to decide on which countries to expand to first?? In Quinn?s case some of the main factors were: one or more hot weather seasons and markets that could serve as a gateway to a larger region. Mexico is a great entry country to Latin America and the Caribbean. The UAE is closely economically linked to the rest of the Middle East. And Australia has New Zealand and Southeast Asia as neighboring trade partners.

Often companies instead choose countries where they have a contact or is a key staff member?s country of origin. Companies might follow a language to markets that really don?t make sense based on a more strategic criteria that focuses on long-term profitability.

 

Assumption #2: Our staff is ready to engage with international clients and partners.

To find out if your staff is ready, start with questions like: ?Who on staff has experience working with international clients?? ?How does staff feel about taking on international clients?? While the international expansion leader may be excited about his role, this does not mean that others share his background or attitudes.

Be sure that staff hear about the importance of the international expansion from company leaders. Informally, the international expansion leader should be having conversations to hear any concerns or questions from colleagues. After all, there is nothing worse than generating international sales leads only to have sales reps quietly leave international calls unreturned.

 

Assumption #3: Business moves at the same speed everywhere.

In my home country, the U.S., we typically create partnerships and close sales deals faster than in other countries. Now before you pat yourselves on the backs about our superior business skills and efficiency, please understand that this does not mean that ours are always well-built deals. In fact, misunderstandings and untrusting partners are far less likely to yield the same long-term profitability.

You can ask yourself, ?Does my entire leadership team understand that the international expansion will move slower than we may be used to in our home market?? ?Am I willing to invest in direct professional relationships including in-person visits to solidify and maintain strong and successful business ties??

 

Assumption #4: The same rules apply? everywhere.

Definitely no. This is one of the biggest challenges in international business. The rules most definitely change based on country and local market. Rules that change include product standards, packaging requirements, forbidden marketing tactics, expectations of ?gifts?, and how local businesspeople conduct themselves.

To prepare for these new rules, definitely do your research before that first contact. There are many sources of culture and legal information available online. There are also consultants who specialize in a particular region or country who can help.

 

Assumption #5: We already have all the answers.

There are international business professionals who spend a great deal of time staying current on how to do business effectively around the world. And they don?t even have all of the answers. What the great ones have is a strong network of resources who specialize in areas of international business and geographic regions.

As a company leader, ask yourself ?what do we need to know in order to be successful and lower our exposure to risk?? ?what areas are we already experiencing challenges?? Again, you can save budget by doing online research with reputable sources or else hire competent international expansion specialists.

Either way, your company will be much better positioned to reach its full global potential!

 

I hope you found this article useful. For more Tips and Tools from Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur, sign up here.

The International Entrepreneur- How to Engage the Right International Network Connectors

business networking, international trade, international entrepreneur, International network connections can be the oil that lubricates the international business engine and allows the machine to move efficiently forward. The right overseas introduction at the right time can propel a company forward into a strategic relationship or a high-value client. Without those introductions, you feel like that high school student who never gets asked to the dance ? under appreciated, awkward and never able to live up to your full potential.

The truth is that networking is an inherently messy, disorganized business. Finding the right connections can be quite tricky. Much time can be wasted trying to meet the right potential Brazilian client and British partner. For now business relationships in most parts of the world are built on direct peer-to-peer relationships and trust built those individuals. That is different than in the U.S, Germany, Australia and other business environments where contracts are the foundation of all working partnerships and transactions. Most of Asian, African and Latin American business builds on direct relationships instead.

You have probably observed that some people are just inherently better at networking than others. You may even know a few of these ?super connectors? who seem to know just about everyone. I have seen two types ? the super connectors who trade introductions almost like currency and those who have a larger agenda to promote other services or even the success of their region. A great example of the latter type is super connector is Arlene Marom. Based in Tel Aviv, Arlene is deeply networked in to the Israeli tech community. She also networks in Europe and North America to both find her own clients for marketing services and to connect Israeli companies with international markets.

 

As a company leader, here are some ways that you can engage with the right international connectors:

Reach out and start asking smart questions

I normally ask industry contacts, ?who do you think I should talk to about doing business in Country X?? Sometimes I go through a few referrals before I find that well-connected resource. But even the well connected can have ulterior motives. Be sure to get third party validation that your super connector has a solid reputation. Then keep asking questions to learn how to do business in this new environment and who the right people are to know.

Respect the Networker?s Role & Reputation

When a network connector makes an introduction for you, they are putting their reputation on the line. It is vital to be modest, engaging, quick to respond and highly professional. It is also a good practice to report back on progress with that relationship to your network connector. Now that said, there may be times when you accidently let those introductions languish untouched. If this happens, engage as soon as you can with a sincere apology. It may take time to rebuild trust. But is also might be altogether too late to salvage the introduction. Never ignore the lead entirely for the sake of your relationship with your network connector.

Find a way to make it worth the Networker?s effort

One of the challenges of being the ?connectors? between companies that should be doing business together is the business model. How do you get paid for introductions? No one knows the value of the relationship about to be forged, if it even moves forward at all. Be sure to find a way to make introductions worth the network connector?s time. This could be a commission based off of the increase in revenue. It could be referrals back to this connector for leads to contract for their services. Or it could be a gift. Always be aware of bribery laws, particularly in the case of any government officials, and follow the laws closely.

It?s never too early to start building your own international network

Networking styles vary greatly. Some engage closely with colleagues and others who they interact with frequently. Others are highly social and know hundreds if not thousands of people. Regardless of your style, reach out to new people when possible and keep positive work relationships strong through the years. I also encourage you to find mentors and take on your own prot?g?s. Mentor-prot?g? relationships tend to be some of the strongest.

Remember that to be effective in international business, at least some relationships will likely need to span both your professional and personal circles. You will need to care about what your connections care about: children’s weddings, health, holidays, etc. Get invested in their lives for the long term.

 

As you continue to grow into international markets, the right connections can be absolutely crucial. Even young companies pre-internationalization should consider making connections. Connections won?t be instantaneous ? it takes time to forge new relationships. Invest wisely!

As a thank you to my loyal readers, you can download my International Market Entry Checklist without cost. From time to time I also send out tips and tools to help growing companies become more globally competitive. Click here to sign up and download this Checklist.

The International Entrepreneur ? Turning Foreign Currency Risk into Profits

currency, international trade, international business

 

A few months ago I was talking with the leaders of a small, innovative Canadian manufacturing firm. The company had grown from its successes in design, production, customer service and marketing? and now they were looking at how to proactively expand into their largest potential market: their neighbor to the south.

When I researched the company, I noted that they kept their prices in Canadian dollars for both sides of the border. I assumed that they wanted the simplicity of a single-currency business. As many of you know – currently Canadian companies have a foreign exchange advantage by charging in U.S. dollars because the Loonie is historically low to the American Buck.

But what the company leaders told me left me at a loss for words. (Those who know me understand that this is a rare occurrence.) They said that they would not charge a different price to the American market because it would be unethical.

Now there are indeed pricing methods that are unethical and oftentimes illegal ? collusion, predatory pricing, kickbacks, etc. But international trade is actually built on the assumption that prices of materials and labor inputs, as well as final products are dissimilar in different markets. If all prices were the same, there would be no real reason to trade at all. Vietnam has a large supply of inexpensive labor that lends well to textile production. Saudi Arabian women put a higher value on beauty products (particularly perfume) than most other markets. And we all know that real estate value for the same building is radically different if it is located in downtown Tokyo vs. Omaha, Nebraska.

Currencies all fluctuate on world markets. What started as a profitable market can quickly turn to a loss as the Euro or Yen loses value. So how can a company take this risk and turn it into profits?

 

Understand that the pendulum swings both ways

Currency exchanges can fluctuate widely. That?s why it is important not to base business performance projections on today?s exchange rate only. I normally give a range of possible projections, knowing that over time the exchange rate will sometimes be favorable to sell product in a market and sometimes less or not at all.

This is why it is important for the Canadian manufacturer to sell their products in American dollars in the American market. Customers would pay the full price because of the value received. And the additional profits from producing products with Canadian materials and labor mean that when the American Buck drops to the Canadian Loonie, there will be some padding to cushion the profit squeeze.

 

Use the Lean Times to Build Operational Efficiencies

When your currency is too strong in international markets, profit margins will get pinched. This is an excellent opportunity to look closely at internal operations. Are there ways to gain efficiencies in production? Are all marketing channels delivering a strong return on investment? We do the same during an economic downturn. Periods when our currency is strong relative to our international markets can drive efficiencies that improve profits even more when the currency weakens again.

 

Consider Supply Chain Costs Too

A strong currency means that your company can buy materials at a lower price from weaker currency markets. It may make sense to keep several suppliers and increase the order size to those suppliers whose currency is currently weaker. This works best for materials that are similar quality between suppliers.

 

I hope you found this article helpful. For more advice and tips on international trade, please sign up here.

The International Entrepreneur – How to Manage Holidays Around the World

business, international, holiday

 

The end of the year is approaching and now is an ideal time to reflect how you and your organization acknowledge important holidays celebrated by your international and domestic clients. In many parts of the world, the year?s passing is marked by its major national, cultural and religious holidays. Most of us have developed ways to reach out to our family and friends to acknowledge the passing of holidays. In business, I would encourage you to embrace the cycle of major cultural and religious holidays, using it to forge deeper connections with customers and partners. In most parts of the world, business relationships are forged between people instead of between companies. Those relationships are the glue that hold your business partnerships together.

Here are some suggestions:

Find out who celebrates which key holidays

In today’s multicultural workforce, it is sometimes difficult to know if an individual celebrates the major holidays associated with a country’s culture or religion. For instance, normally people of the Islamic faith celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of reflection and fasting. But not all celebrate this holiday. For instance, I know a Muslim woman from Lebanon who does not participate in the rituals related Ramadan, but does actually celebrate the gift-giving ritual of Christmas. The best way to find out is to ask your key contacts which major holidays they celebrate.

National holidays can sometimes be just as important as religion-based holidays. It is often a day where businesses are closed. In some countries like China, people return to ancestral homes and are out of the office for more than a week. A simple acknowledgement of national holidays is enough.

Most holidays are cyclical, falling on the same day each year. But some like Ramadan are based on the lunar calendar. Also be aware that some countries have similar holidays, but celebrate on different days or even with vastly different traditions. For instance, Canada and the U.S. both celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving, but they fall in different months.

Sometimes holidays are built into a company’s culture. To find out if a company is expecting employees to celebrate a holiday, ask if there are days that the company will be closed for celebration. If you are doing business in a part of the world that traditionally celebrates Christmas, Ramadan/Eid, Jewish high holidays, or Hindu holidays, ask about this a few weeks before the upcoming holiday. This information can easily be stored in the company customer-relationship management (CRM) system and tracked by customer-facing staff in your company.

 

the-lantern-festival-977259_1920

 

Recognize the holiday in a sincere way

A card is one of the best ways to show respect for someone’s holidays. It’s simple but takes a little effort. Cards can be ordered online, particularly if a holiday is not regularly celebrated in your part of the world. If your business relationship is not as critical, consider sending an email wishing your customer or partner well. But be careful to understand what a specific holiday celebrates. Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish holiday. This year a friend of mine wished her Israeli partners, “Happy Yom Kippur.” This was met with amusement since Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement.” My friend plans to adjust her greeting when this holiday comes around next year.

The question that often comes up is gift giving. This is a tricky issue as some cultures will expect a gift to mark a holiday. First, check both home laws and in-country laws to know the limits on what is considered a gift and what crosses the line to bribery. Rules definitely vary around the world. An alternative to gift giving is giving a donation of time or other resources to charity in the client?s name to show honor and respect.

 

Be Ready for the Impact of a Major Holiday on Sales and Shipping

If you’ve ever tried to ship your product into the Middle East during Ramadan, you know how hard it is to get anything processed and sent forward to your client. Business grinds to a glacial pace during that month. Likewise, in many countries that widely celebrate Christmas business can slow down dramatically around the end of December as many employees take vacation days to be with their families. In order to keep business cash flow from drying up at a potentially critical point, you may want to time marketing, lead generation and sales cycles to wrap up before a major holiday. There is no reason to be caught unaware when holidays can be known well in advance.

I hope this article helps you in navigating your international business relationships through the holidays. For more information about doing international business, sign up for The International Entrepreneur Mailing List.

Becky DeStigter, The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Improving Agile International Project Management

agile global project management, international trade,
This week I caught up top global IT project manager, Sean Hull. Sean leads global teams on enterprise system implementations. His latest project involved a U.S.-American company implementing a customized system for an Australian customer that was developed by a South Korean team. I wanted to hear Sean?s insights about how agile management practices are used in global project implementations.

Like Sean, I have spent much of my career in and around large-scale technology industries. I know that any company selling enterprise-level customized software or other technologies needs a high-performance professional implementation services team – the company?s competitive edge.

I recently worked with a tech company that did not yet have such a team. Projects lost money instead of providing much-needed profit margins. Fulfilling the contract meant commandeering product development resources away from core product (that was already late to market) in order to write custom code. It was a first-class mess. Any improvements to project management methods literally hit the bottom line for the company.

?Software is worthless until it is used by a customer.? ~ Sean Hull

Sean went on to say that, ?in Agile Project Management, software is delivered in iterative code and documentation. Feedback from the customer is built into short ?sprint? cycles. This requires vendor and customer staff to have instant contact. Tight delivery cycles and collaborative communications need to be exceptionally managed for all of this to be successful. One of the benefits of agile project management is that the customer helps to discover any issues much earlier in the implementation process. This saves time and resources overall.?

 

Here are some of Sean?s tips for effective global project management:

Tip 1: Enforce your project management processes and tools. A project manager can choose from any number of processes and online tools to manage the project. Enforcing that nothing happens on the project unless it is communicated and documented according to the project rules is especially critical when the team is spread out geographically. One of Sean?s favorite project collaboration tools is Basecamp, which scales from small to very large projects.

Tip 2: Get to know your team. Meet in person, if you can, even if that means traveling to the same location. Be sure to draw up a process that would work for all involved. It is extremely helpful to know how your team members currently approach their work. Together with his team Sean likes to define: ?What does the baked pizza look like?? It?s also a great idea to look for ways to make life easier for all involved.

Tip 3: Know how to collaborate with all cultures involved. In some cultures, the boss tells his or her team exactly what to do. In others, team members are expected to take more initiative and share their expertise openly within the team. Incorporate the various styles into how you work with your team. Sean recommends using the SCARF Model.

Tip: 4: Take advantage of the tactical tools from Agile methodologies. This includes how to run meetings, monitoring progress, etc. These work well as long as you take into the variation needed for culture and personality.

As global project management competency grows as a critical factor for business success, these skills will be critical to securing profit margins and loyal customers. I hope you find these tips useful in your company and projects.

For more information about how to expand your company internationally, please contact me for a 30-minute complimentary consultation.

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur ? 9 Ways to Improve Your International Presentations

international presentation, audience, international trade

Your big prospective international partner has agreed to let you present your company?s ideas on how to work together. Everyone goes through the formalities of introductions. Now it?s time for your presentation. But as you start to go through your standard presentation, the executives look increasingly disinterested. Some even look a bit agitated. You can feel the heat rising in the room. After the presentation, the audience seems much less engaged in the partnership idea. What has gone wrong?

Let?s go back to the preparations you made before the big presentation. An international presentation requires some key adjustments to be successful. Here are 9 ways to improve your presentations to international audiences:

Know your audience. Are you talking with a German industrial company where technical details are more important than any emotional appeals? Or is this a Brazilian services company where emotional appeal is actually more critical? Should it be fast paced for Americans or slower for an Indian audience? Should I show higher modesty levels for East Asian or Latin American listeners or should I show more confidence for the Lebanese? Cultural and industry variances are important to your content if you want to be in harmony with your audience.

Slow down and simplify language. Those of us who are English speakers need to slow our rate of delivery down for presentations. This is not because our audience is in any way less intelligent than us, but that listening in another language takes concentration away from formulating analysis about your content as well as any questions audience members may have.

No idioms, slang, humor, or other cultural references. These things just don?t translate well. Americans, that means no baseball references like ?hitting it out of the ballpark? or ?pinch hitting?. Humor varies enough from one country to another that it?s better to avoid the risk of the joke falling flat altogether.

Know the color and symbol references. A few examples: In China, red and yellow are generally positive colors. Green is associated with Islam in many Muslim countries. But don?t show an image of someone with their thumbs up in Turkey ? it?s considered vulgar.

Use examples from the natural world. I read this suggestion a while ago and if I knew the source I would credit them. Great suggestion. The entire world understands concepts like predator and prey, animals knowing in advance of a natural disaster, etc. If there is a chance to use examples to make your point from nature, it is likely to be understood and remembered.

Know if there is a status order. In many cultures, the highest-ranking leader in the group gets deferential treatment. That means that you acknowledge their importance in the room and focus your presentation on their attention. This would be true in places like Thailand, Egypt, Argentina and Kuwait. In some countries the opposite is true ? everyone gets the same treatment and respect. This includes places like Canada, Australia and Sweden.

Presentation slides should be written out in full sentences for non-English audiences. Many non-native English speakers learned to read and write more than listen and speak. This is especially true in many parts of Asia. Your audience may get much more from reading your slides than from what you say.

Leave behind full-color handouts of your presentation. If this presentation is critical to your company, then by all means have the materials also translated into the local language. This will help you to stand out from your competition!

BE PREPARED. This may sound obvious, but reviewing and practicing before the presentation will help you to stay more engaged with your audience. If possible, do a rehearsal of your presentation with an in-country contact who can give you feedback on how your presentation will be received.

Presentations can help build a key business partnership or accelerate a sales process with an important client. But done poorly, it can cause you to stumble and lose credibility. I hope this article was helpful. If you need help as your company moves into new international markets, please feel free to contact me for advice. I offer a 30-minute complimentary session to talk about your plans and challenges.

 

Onward & upward,

Becky DeStigter

The International Entrepreneur

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