With globalization prevalent at an unprecedented rate, we are witnessing a growing number of entrepreneurs entering foreign markets with products or outsourcing manufacturing. Taking their small- or medium-sized businesses globally with different and unfamiliar customs and regulations can hamper success. Overcoming these challenges requires a mind shift through a good command of foreign cultures, values, and a sound strategy by the entrepreneur. Moreover, the same knowledge can create diversity awareness by embracing and respecting multiple cultures within the organization.
The capitalist as a global citizen
Along with knowledge of all fundamentals of running a business, the “global” entrepreneur systematically seeks out and conducts new and innovative business activities across national borders. Diversity of thought and culture is needed to handle global business matters most efficiently. Undoubtedly, those best prepared have an international background having lived abroad and/or studied international business. Given that not everyone has had this opportunity, there is no reason that an entrepreneur can’t get self educated and think, as well as act globally. Rather than just focus on local home issues, global horizons can be released by immersing oneself to foreign news sources (both political and business related), as well as carrying out research and obtaining information to guide toward the best decisions. Learning another language, culture, and physically exploring the countries of interest, can’t help but develop a global mindset, motivate to evaluate foreign strategy, and ultimately allow seeing things from a different perspective.
For global research purposes, resources and services at one’s knowledge base include:
1) Go online and investigate how the Internet functions in this country; key sites; key offerings; style; information dissemination
2) Examine local media; i.e. news sources online and off line, business publications. Some publications are in English. Many are not. Don’t hesitate to use Google’s “translate this page” application.
3) Multicultural training can’t hurt. Contact either educational institutions or management consultancies, who can help you prepare the necessary groundwork
4) Most countries have governmental export organizations, which provide support. In the USA contact: USCS; In Canada contact the EDC; in the United Kingdom contact the UKTI.
Most countries have “trade missions” – an overseas program for local businesses that want to explore and pursue export opportunities by meeting directly with potential clients in specified foreign markets.
In addition to cultural awareness aspect, it can be useful to find reliable local partners, who are already established and understand the country’s market you wish to target. Certain countries will not let you enter without a “local” partner. Do yourself a great favor and inform yourself on how this can work to your advantage.
Trying to contact local distributors, sales agents or licensees may not be possible without the proper introductions. Therefore, do your homework. Exploiting an existing customer base in a partnership arrangement can be very advantageous.
Payment terms and guarantees are another issue that can be dealt with through the guidance of various government export programs.
From local and humble beginnings to the international stage
What most people don’t realize are the humble beginnings of most local firms before their recognition on the international stage.
Take for example the French-Canadian entrepreneur Guy Laliberte, and co-founder of the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil. He had his humble beginnings as a street performer in Montreal where he used to entertain small audiences alfresco with his stilt-walking and fire-eating acts.
In 1984, despite his limited command of the English language and unfamiliarity with the global scene, Laliberte had a vision to create and eventually export an upscale alternative to the traditional circus. His original plan was intended to be just a one-year project.
Cirque du Soleil was scheduled to perform in eleven towns in the Canadian Francophone province of Quebec over the course of thirteen weeks. After its inaugural show across Canada with a cast of 70 to 100 performers, the Cirque unveiled its first show outside Canada in 1987. It took place in Los Angeles with great fanfare.
The stakes were high. As Laliberte recalls:
“I bet everything on one night. If we failed, there was no cash for gas to come home.”
Beyond his wildest dreams, the applause rumpled across the States like thunder.
Over the years, he continued to learn and adapt to various market conditions. With an astute understanding of branding his circus grew.
Its success is a manifestation of imagination and hard work. What differentiates Cirque from its predecessors are unique shows fueled by emotion. Today, there are 19 shows in over 271 cities on every continent except Antarctica. The shows employ approximately 4,000 people from over 40 countries and generate an estimated annual revenue exceeding $810m.
What I also admire about Guy is that he is more than just an entrepreneur. He is also a philanthropist, space tourist and professional poker player with an estimated net worth of $2.6bn according to Forbes magazine (2012).
My Final Take
Although international business is fraught with challenges, strategic planning coupled to measured risk taking pays big dividends. However, you cannot rest on your laurels. Political and economic trends shift with the wind. Sailing with the wind allows an entrepreneur to feel the pulse of trends while at the same time giving the individual a template for personal growth.
Secondly, unlike previous generations, the internet provides countless opportunities to reach out and broaden target audiences in a way that was not possible.
Governmental agencies, in most major developed countries, through collaboration with their foreign attaches, are prepared to help intrepid business people by providing entrepreneurs with technical support and resources.
If foreign expansion is on your agenda, study those firms who have made the leap successfully.
The example of the Cirque du Soleil brilliantly demonstrates how it
is possible to stake out your corner. Logistically, Cirque also understood that success needed to collaborate with locals and to deliver entertainment in a focused way which transcends culture and language.
I attribute this success as well as others to a keen appreciation of EQ rather than IQ. After all, having a global mindset implies cultural intelligence coupled to traditional business practices.