Should my business go international?

By Lexie Lu

Expanding your business into another country is a major decision to consider carefully. There is no universal answer for every company, but taking these six actions will help you reach a more informed conclusion.

-Examine the marketplace demand

Not all businesses are at the point where it makes sense to move into an international market. A product selling well at home is a notable achievement, but it does not guarantee you’ll see healthy sales elsewhere.

Take the time to thoroughly look into market conditions and determine how they might affect your success or cause a failure. Assessing the amount of competition is a great start. Maybe you want to bring a food delivery service to another country. That could work well if potential customers don’t have many existing options, but you could have trouble gaining traction if several other providers have been in the marketplace for a while.

Listening to customer feedback is also smart. When lots of people start asking if you ship internationally, that’s a strong sign it might prove lucrative. Additionally, operating an e-commerce store that ships overseas is a wise alternative to opening up physical locations elsewhere. You can see how many online orders arrive from other countries, then use those metrics to shape your next move.

-Consider how to handle language barriers

Communication challenges can become even more upsetting if the people involved speak different languages. You may have difficulties negotiating a contract because of a language barrier. It could also become problematic if your company representatives cannot clearly communicate needs to contractors in the other country. That outcome could result in wasted time and misunderstood instructions.

Consider all the possible language barriers you might encounter. Thinking through those situations makes it easier to prepare for them instead of being taken off guard by the obstacles.

For example, one of the most commonly utilized options is to hire a translator to assist with your interpersonal dialogue. If you have many new employees who don’t speak your language, that could be a smart move for everyone involved. You might also hire a professional to handle translation needs for your website. Avoid using services like Google Translate. They often fail to capture the intended meaning of what’s said.

-Investigate specifics about logistics

Thinking about whether to make an international move with your business also requires understanding what to do differently regarding shipping and logistics. Moving goods within one country is different from dealing with the customs requirements and potentially longer transit times associated with international shipments.

There are also things to keep in mind regarding shipping items internationally. For example, a shipped parcel must include a UN packaging code. It alerts a handler to what’s inside a package and the kind of container used. This system also confirms that the item passed the required tests. There are three possible code combinations consisting of letters and numbers.

When considering an international move, it’s crucial to figure out what your company must do to ensure goods reach their destinations safely and smoothly. You’ll likely run into occasional difficulties. Luckily, you can reduce them by working with logistics specialists who understand how to accommodate needs associated with certain countries and routes.

-Explore how to address additional customer support needs

When taking your business into an international market, you’ll likely have new customer support requirements. If the new country is in another time zone, will you alter your existing customer service team’s shifts to compensate or hire a new group of people to help?

Think about how people would prefer to receive assistance. Offering help by chat could let agents deal with multiple parties simultaneously, but some customers may perceive that method as impersonal and cold. If your website or app has help documentation in one language, consider making it available in more of them. Doing that caters to a larger segment of your target market.

Investing in customer service for international markets could require a significant budget. However, falling short in this area could give people the impression it’s not worth doing business with you. They may provide you one or a few chances to improve, but most will not tolerate it if you’re not ready to adequately serve the people in your target market.

-Learn about international compliance issues

Global expansion for your business requires learning what your organization must do to comply with laws in the country or region. That encompasses everything from filing your taxes correctly to understanding the respective data storage and consumer privacy specifics.

Getting to know about cybersecurity compliance is also essential for businesses. There are more than 100 country-specific cybersecurity laws, in addition to many for different states. In China, companies in some sectors must store company-related and personal details inside the country and not move it elsewhere without government approval. Failing to do that could result in a business suspension.

Other countries impose hefty fines on companies that do not operate within the law. Studying the specifics before committing to expansion will help businesses understand the obligations from the start. You don’t want to find out too late that mistakes occurred and hindered a company or damaged its reputation.

-Get informed about cultural differences

Culture shock can become humorous if it occurs during a weeklong vacation abroad. However, when business leaders show too much cluelessness about a country’s culture, they risk becoming unintentionally offensive. It’s even worse if someone arrives in a new place and has no intention of respecting cultural differences, even after learning about them.

Fortunately, avoiding cultural blunders does not necessarily require memorizing a long list of rules. The better approach is to be a good, interested listener when interacting with people from other cultures. Show respect and a willingness to learn. If you’re worried about which tone to use, the smartest option is to behave or express yourself a little more formally than you otherwise might.

What you learn about cultural differences might require establishing new-to-you workplace norms or deciding not to introduce certain products. However, the more time you devote to studying the culture, the more equipped you’ll be to decide whether to bring your business to a particular nation.

Think carefully before deciding

These six things should certainly be among your considerations before an international expansion. However, they aren’t the only factors. Take your time making a decision, and you’ll steer clear of many common pitfalls.


Lexie Lu is a freelance designer and writer based in Williamsport, PA. She co-founded the blog, Design Roast, a resource for web designers and marketers, in 2015. She specializes in graphic design, web design, branding, UX design, and mobile app wireframes. She earned her BA from Lycoming College. While not working in her home office, she enjoys walking her goldendoodle, cooking for friends and family, and watching way too much HGTV. Lexie’s work and writing can be found on well-known sites such as, Website Magazine, Marketo, and Envato. Feel free to connect with her on Design Roast or via Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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