Building your own business from the ground up and having to make all executive decisions is one of the most thrilling aspects of being an entrepreneur. It’s not only the day-to-day choices of how your enterprise will be run rest on your shoulders, but also the bigger picture.
At some point, many entrepreneurs will have to think if it’s time to expand their business abroad. Global export trade is growing and has reached $15.96 trillion (almost £12 trillion) in 2016 – up from $12.27 trillion (more than £9 trillion) in 2006 and almost $62 billion (roughly £46 billion) in 1950. So, expanding abroad seems like the name of the game.
That does not necessarily mean setting up shop in another country, though. Merely taking the decision to provide goods and services abroad is enough of a hassle and there are many different aspects that you need to take into account to make it work.
Overcoming that Language and Culture Barrier
Language is key when it comes to dealing with international clients – you can really understand that if you take a moment to reflect how your language choices change from client to client in your own native language. Language is a tool that helps you get your point across and really engage with consumers and vendors, so it is necessary that you feel confident you can express yourself adequately.
For most of Europe, language should not be a problem, as people are used to dealing in English, but if you are looking for clients in Latin America or Asia, you might need to expand your scope just a bit.
It is always best to hire a translator and double check that there are no misunderstandings in arrangements than find out the hard way. Or you can take a shortcut and hire a bilingual employee who can work both on communication and on handling business.
The same goes for advertising in foreign markets: get a team that you know will get the job done properly to avoid any silly mistakes in local slang, or even cultural connotations you wouldn’t have a way of knowing about. It might cost a bit more, but it is definitely worth it just to eliminate the possibility of a legendary mistranslation.
Then there’s also the issue of cultural differences – you need to be mindful of local customs and understand that some countries, like Japan or France, will expect you to adapt to local habits – but even those that don’t have been found to be more responsive to text localized to suits their preferences and culture.
Getting Paid Abroad
When you are providing goods and services abroad, you need to be able to get paid in that country. Sometimes, just giving out your UK account number won’t cut it. People like options – especially clients in faraway places.
Nowadays, everything is digital. Make sure you set up alternative payment options online, like PayPal. Plan ahead and draw up a standard procedure for accepting foreign payments, but make sure you provide at least a couple of options. But before deciding on the options you are going to give, it is best to review the fees that come with every choice and adjust your rates accordingly.
Recent fluctuations in currency exchange can also influence that decision, and research will help you make the most informed choice. Has the currency in question been relatively stable in recent years against your own? How has the foreign exchange market been in terms of the pair? Are there any developments expected to influence this relationship?
As a UK business owner looking to expand into the US markets, you’d look at GBP/USD currency pair – that also goes for US business owners looking to try the UK. Researching forex trading and how the currencies you are interested in have behaved lately can help you decide which currency will be the best choice to accept payments in – for example, you might find that the local currency fluctuates a lot more than your own, so you’d prefer to accept payments in your home currency and avoid sudden plunges in price, especially if you are dealing with large sums that take some time to process.
After you have decided which currency is right for you, you could set up a bank account in foreign currency with your bank, especially if you regularly take payments in a specific currency, in order to avoid overly high processing fees.
Get Your Obligations Straight
When dealing with international clients, you have to pay attention to two legal systems: both your own and theirs. If you get foreign income, you might be eligible to pay foreign income tax in the UK. Anything outside England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland counts as foreign, so make sure you review the legislation thoroughly – preferably with the help of an accountant.
General compliance issues with regulatory requirements are also one of the most important aspects of dealing with international clients. For example, after the new EU privacy legislation, GDPR, came into effect, data protection obligations when it comes to handling clients’ data became much stricter – and countries across the globe have to address those changes. Make sure that when you take operations to another country you are familiar with local legislation and requirements, to avoid nasty surprises.
Taking risks is all part of that entrepreneur excitement – but every good businessman knows that you do not take a risk if it’s not necessary to do so. By planning ahead and taking all these aspects into consideration, you can avoid risky choices and just stick to the good part of running a successful business.
There’s no cookie-cutter solution here, but by doing your research and talking to the right people, you’ll acquire all the information necessary to make the best possible choice, and potentially even find new opportunities you hadn’t considered.