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A ROUND THE GLOBE – AND TO THE BANK.
E L A I N E S. P OV I C H
PH OTO G R A PH Y B Y C H R I S TO PH W I L H E L M
arah McCann, president and CEO of Apex Performance Systems, vividly remembers the ﬁrst tentative toe she dipped into international markets. The call came in 1986. Come to France, said the organizers of a European business conference. See Paris and, while you’re at it, meet international entrepreneurs and try to sell them on doing business with your sales training and management consulting business. McCann accepted the invitation and decided to tack on a few days for a Parisian vacation too. “Were there any butterﬂies? Sure,” she recalls. “What will they think of Americans? Will our ideas be accepted? And the worst case, will they boo us out of the auditorium?” There were no boos. And things worked out better than she could have hoped. That conference led to two clients. One became the ﬁrm’s biggest customer for a number of years, adding about a quarter of a million dollars to her bottom line. Another became a favorite client and a lifetime friend. Today, Apex Performance Systems, while based in Madison, Wis., and Chicago, has clients from Jordan to New Zealand and many places in between. McCann’s experience is just one example of the way women entrepreneurs are tapping into global business. They are expanding their markets, working with local representatives in the countries they target, and seeking innovative partners or inexpensive manufacturers all over the world – an increasingly “ﬂatter” world, where companies everywhere are connected on a more level playing ﬁeld as if they were neighbors. Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), says, “If you want to grow and ﬂourish in a ﬂat world, you better learn how to change and align yourself with it.”
Women are learning how. In a 2006 survey by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, an advocate for womenowned businesses, 25 percent of the group’s members said they currently conduct business outside the United States. “A lot of business owners are getting into the international market,” says Marilyn Johnson, vice president of market development for IBM. “Women are looking for ways to capture new markets and grow without adding brick and mortar.”
R E A D Y T O G O — O R NO T ?
But how to get started? Where do business owners go to get international clients, or partners, if not during a weekend in Paris?
While business conferences are one way to begin, there are lots of other considerations to make ﬁrst, say experts like Laurel Delaney, the self-described “queen of global” who owns and runs a ﬁrm designed to help companies develop business internationally. Delaney’s company, Global TradeSource Ltd. (globetrade.com),“serves as a roadmap to doing business with the world,” she says. Although selling software in South Africa, services in Singapore or technology in Tajikistan may sound exotic, companies considering a leap abroad should ask tough questions about the nature of their business to determine whether or not it’s even ready to go overseas, according to Delaney and others. For example: Is the business already successful? Overseas markets are no place for a struggling company. “I ask key questions to determine if the business is in the ready stage,” Delaney says. “You have to have a proven business model here in the United States. You have to have taken the transaction all the way to the end and kept up locally.”
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SHE’S GOT THE
W HOLE WOR LD
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Does the business translate to foreign markets? Growing companies should never assume that “the way business is done here is the way business is done there,” says Rich Sloan, co-founder of StartupNation (startupnation.com), an online resource that helps entrepreneurs. Furthermore, a product or service in demand in America won’t necessarily be in demand – or be seen as affordable – in just any foreign market. For example, American-made electronics shipped off the shelf may be useless to a buyer in Austria if they don’t plug into Austrian outlets. Can manufacturing keep up with the increased demand? Orders may come in more quickly than expected when a company’s customer base suddenly swells. Can local supply keep up? Will current banking and ﬁnancial systems handle orders from overseas? Wire transfers and international credit transactions can be tricky, but the larger U.S. banks handle thousands of such exchanges each day – helping companies avoid most of the headache. Can the present transportation system ship door-to-door overseas? Late orders can squelch new business before it starts, and the average small to mid-size company can’t handle international logistics on its own. Fortunately a wide range of thirdparty logistics providers, including UPS, FedEx, DHL and dozens of others, can manage the entire supply chain, including customs and foreign delivery. What’s the best market to enter ﬁrst? Experts suggest picking a country with a familiar language where American products and services already have a successful track record. Googling websites in that country, especially sites that sell the same category of products, can give a quick, initial idea of how mature a market is and whether or not there is demand worth investigating further.
S T E P P I NG A B ROA D
For many companies deemed ready to venture abroad, going global can begin by rediscovering the “world” in “World Wide Web. ”
Even businesses that aren’t Internet-driven discover they are
already inﬁltrating overseas markets merely by being on the Web. “What we’re ﬁnding is through technology and the investment in technology, you are a global business if you’re using the Internet,” Johnson says. Sloan advises that companies conducting most of their business online should think internationally – dedicating versions of their website to each target market’s language and tastes – in order to boost sales overseas. Experts also suggest that less experienced companies ﬁnd someone in a new foreign market to serve as a local presence, such as an account representative or salesperson who knows the territory, or a foreign company acting in partnership. “If I’m interested in distributing a product in Germany and I’m based in Topeka, I will be very well-served by someone in Germany who understands the lay of the land and has resources to help me penetrate,” Sloan says. Sheryl Prince and Allison Doorbar, senior planner and managing partner, respectively, at JWT Education, provide market research, strategic marketing and services to clients in the education sector. They also advise educational clients from the U.S. to the U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. Doorbar started a company in Australia, which later merged with JWT. From the company’s base down under, international expansion was a no-brainer because there are just 38 universities in Australia, while there are 3,000 in the U.S. and 168 in the U.K. Doorbar says the business took off in the U.K. “because it doesn’t exist there,” but the British universities still wanted to deal with a local representative. “In our experience, it’s hard to service a business from an overseas location,” she says. Adds Prince: “We are required to have a presence, even for billing.” The solution? The company asked a contractor in Australia, a company based in the U.K., to be its local contact in Britain. Another way to test the market waters overseas is through advertising. International publications – such as those that appear on international airlines or in high-class hotels – often provide an avenue for ﬁnding foreign clients, especially for
(continued on page 63)
SELLING SOF T WA RE
IN SOU TH A FRICA,
services in Singapore or technology in Tajikistan may sound exotic, companies considering a leap abroad should ask tough questions about the nature of their business.
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Multi” in “Multina the “ tion ng al” epi Ke
In an increasingly global marketplace, even large corporations with proven success overseas must search for new ways of doing business to keep a competitive edge. Constantly refining its website to be internationally friendly — beginning with language options for customers in more than 100 countries — is just one of the things UPS does to keep its global business humming. UPS and global leaders Avon and Procter & Gamble share these other best practices:
D O I N G B U S I N E S S I N C O N T E X T. “We don’t want to come in and just stake our American flag down,” says UPS spokeswoman Karen Cole. Instead, the company works inside a specific market’s business and consumer culture to make sure it succeeds within the local context, while at the same time adhering to efficiencies and expertise gained in the U.S. It was a lesson learned the hard way. When the company moved into Europe in the 1970s, for example, it came in with an attitude that “what works well in the U.S. will work well here,” according to Cole. But that didn’t pan out, and UPS had to adapt to the different countries’ cultures. Since then, it has used its more flexible philosophy to expand worldwide. L I S T E N I N G T O C O N S U M E R S . Customizing business for a foreign market begins with knowing the consumer firsthand. Procter & Gamble learned early on that what’s good for American shoppers isn’t always right for shoppers overseas. Spokesman Scott Stewart notes, for example, that while Americans like big batches of everything, women in other countries who walk to market can’t lug home 1.5-gallon jugs of Tide detergent. Instead, P&G packages the product in smaller “sachets” that are easier to transport and less expensive. When the P&G board gets together for meetings in various countries, the members often venture out into the consumer’s world to take a look at what products are being used and how. Some even go into women’s homes and ask what products they use. For example, interviewing women one-on-one in Venezuela told P&G that its Gain laundry detergent was more appealing to that market segment because of the product’s “nicer fragrance.” PA R T N E R I N G W I T H LO C A L S . Jennifer Vargas, a spokeswoman for Avon, says that when the cosmetics company sets up in a country, it recruits local people on the ground to oversee a particular geographic area. Those local managers then recruit local sellers. The result? Immediate knowledge of market-specific tastes and preferences, as well as sales methods that work well among the region’s people. Vargas recently returned from a trip to Warsaw, Poland, where she observed how the company’s marketing efforts are succeeding there. What she found was that the direct-sales aspect of Avon’s business is “unique and powerful” in Eastern Europe, particularly because it encourages women to get training, have an income and help support their families. When UPS went to China, it bought out a local company and converted it to the “Brown” system instead of building a new business from the ground up, which is like placing a square peg in a round hole without adequate market knowledge. As a result, the UPS venture in China successfully blends local customs with American business practices, Cole says. B E I N G A G O O D C O R P O R AT E C I T I Z E N . Avon’s support of women’s activities worldwide — particularly breast cancer and domestic violence initiatives — enhances the company’s good reputation with buyers, Vargas says. Similarly, P&G works to improve the lives of children in need through its program “Live, Learn and Thrive,” which it says has helped 40 million children around the world. And for the past three years, UPS employees in more than 50 countries have pitched in with local projects as part of the company’s “Global Volunteer Week.” By making a difference in the everyday lives of people in all corners of the world, even giant corporations can achieve a personal touch — earning consumer loyalty for years to come.
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high-end products. Robin Stuart, CEO of Voyage Partners, based in California, sells suites on boutique residential cruise ships. She says there is enormous interest in her business among overseas clients, particularly in Europe, due to the favorable exchange rate between the euro and the dollar at present. And, she says, the company has had an “enormous number of Asian buyers.” How do these far-ﬂung customers know that the luxury condo-like suites are available on ocean liners? Advertising. Stuart says her company advertises in publications likeWorld of Cruising and in coffee-table books present in Asian hotels. Women business owners don’t have to go it alone in global markets, either, says IBM’s Johnson, who specializes in showing owners how to set up a partnership with her global company as a way to crack international sales. “We want companies owned, led and inﬂuenced by women to know that, in a marketplace with global opportunities, they [can] partner with a strong IT provider who can help them grow their business,” Johnson says. She adds that such a partnership also allows IBM to expand into small business markets “that may not know we are talking to them: women-owned, Asian-owned, blackowned, Hispanic-owned or Native American-owned.” In some cases, American companies of all sizes can ﬁnd a helpful partner in the foreign country’s own government, since many ofﬁcials are actively recruiting American business. For example, Mona Diamond, an honorary consul general for Turkey, is working to bring American businesswomen to Turkey for a conference on expanding American commerce there. “If someone has an idea that they want to do business in Turkey, we will reach out to an established company already in Turkey,” she says. “If not, we’ll help them any way we can.” Contacting an American consulate inside a country of interest is one way to ﬁnd local government ofﬁcials and businesspeople interested in recruiting American companies. But sometimes nothing beats the trade shows. Sloan, of StartupNation, got his own international start promoting a product called “More Balls than Most,” a juggling kit for stress relief that eventually became immensely successful. Sloan and his brother, Jeff, attended gift and toy shows, particularly one held at the Javits Center in New York City, to market the product both domestically and internationally. “There were huge contingents from Italy, France, the U.K. and Asia that had their own sections at the trade show,” he says. “It was a very convenient way to do business internationally. And all you had to do was go to New York.” So it goes in today’s ﬂat world.
Check out these websites for more on going global:
Export.gov. A one-stop shop for export assistance programs and services in collaboration with agencies across the federal government. SBA Office of International Trade (sba.gov/oit). Help from the U.S. Small Business Administration through its 16 export assistance centers. U.S. Chamber of Commerce (uschamber.com/international). Source of trade statistics, country and market reports, best market reports, trade contacts and more. Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (exim.gov). Assistance for companies of all sizes in financing the export of goods and services to international markets. State programs. Many states also have their own programs designed to help local companies expand overseas. Visit your state’s home page to see what’s available.
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