The reality is this: No one knows everything there is to know about international trade. There are 180+ sovereign countries, 3,000+ languages, local regulations and business practices, and countless other details that affect doing business.
We may not know it all, but we can strengthen our knowledge, positioning and outcomes by shoring up weaknesses in international operations and focusing on our core competencies.
For international operations, here are clear signs that it’s time to bring in outside resources to advise or outsource specific functions:
- When your company has many international sales leads, but no plan for how to enter high-demand markets or serve those markets. Lots of leads means you likely have opportunities to grow into new markets. The time to plan is now.
What you need: an International Strategy Advisor. Unlike a Country Specialist, who focuses on a single foreign market, you’re looking for someone who focuses on strategy and is geographically agnostic.
- When you don’t know enough about overseas markets to make sound business decisions. How big are your international markets? What’s the competition? What would it cost to enter these markets? If you don’t know, then your leadership team is operating in the dark.
What you need: International Market Researchers. A Generalist can help point in the right directions. But to drill down to actionable data, Country Specialists are going to need to research for you in country.
- When your sales team can’t seem to negotiate favorable terms in their international agreements. No more playing the blame game about how the other side didn’t negotiate fairly. The reality is that few North American sales or business development professionals fully prepare for international negotiations. But you can put the odds back in your favor.
What you need: International Negotiations Coach. Learn the real rules of the game before stepping on to the court. And look forward to not only better terms in your agreements, but strong long-term relationships with clients and partners.
- When your company website and other key marketing tools are not available in your major markets’ languages. This may seem like an obvious situation to fix, but unfortunately translation/localization often lags behind market demand. Or if the website does have translated pages, they are done so poorly that it undermines company branding.
What you need: Local Marketing Outsourcing Firms. If your company is getting 30% of its leads from Poland, then it’s time to hire a local Polish marketing firm to localize your online presence and create a local strategy that fits how business is done locally. Never short change translation/localization in important markets. You’re just shooting yourself in the foot.
- When your new overseas operations start off with great intentions but quickly dissolve into a mess. You’ll know that you need a third party to intervene when distrust starts to grow between the remote foreign operation and headquarters staff.
What you need: Cross-Cultural Trainer and Troubleshooter. An outside resource can often cut through the issues quickly to find root causes. So often the issues are culturally based, leading to clashing expectations on roles, outcomes and communication styles. Get help quickly. Really.
- When you’ve entered international markets, but have not registered your trademarks internationally. If your company is guilty of this oversight, please understand that it is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette. If you register with WIPO and China fees are trivial compared with the costs and headaches of wrestling back your trademark from IP pirates later.
What you need: International Intellectual Property Attorney. A good law firm with international capabilities is critical.
- When local taxation is costing your company profit margins. Local governments want their share of your company’s success. But there are smart ways to plan to minimize your company’s international tax burden.
What you need: International Tax Accountant. Larger accounting firms all have international tax specialists. Make sure that your firm’s international tax department is giving advice to lower your taxable income in high rate regions. They’ll also ensure that your company is fully compliant and not exposed to future penalties.
- When your shipping department is spending lots of time on international shipments, but logistics is still eating up profit margins. If your shipping department specializes in international documentation and logistics, then it’s a competitive advantage. But for most companies, outsourcing international shipping can save a great deal of money AND headaches.
What you need: a Freight Forwarder. There are other types of international logistics firms, but freight forwarders are one of the most common. Find one familiar with your type of product, has a strong reputation, and is the right size to serve your company.
- When you are losing opportunities from lack of in-country connections. If no one wants to talk with your business development executives or sales manager, it may mean that you need some well-placed introductions. In many countries, it’s not a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity.
What you need: In-Country Intermediaries. It usually works best to find paid intermediaries through your local embassy, chamber of commerce, or industry association. In places like Brazil, U.A.E. and Thailand, an intermediary can save months of time trying to do it yourself.
I hope this list is helpful to you. If you need any referrals for specific resources, please let me know.
If you need an International Strategy Advisor, International Negotiations Coach or an International Cross-Cultural Trainer and Troubleshooter- I offer a 30-minute complimentary consultation.
Best of success in all of your international business!
Becky DeStigter, MBA, MS
The International Entrepreneur