How do you know when you are ready to expand your business globally? If you have just experienced a rapid growth stage with your business–doubling sales weekly over the past year, for instance–and not only survived it but are also thriving, then you’re ready to model that success into continuous growth through global expansion. Here are six signs you’re ready:
1. Customers are beating down your online door.
Let’s say you typically receive 50 emails per day and all of a sudden you find more than half of those are requests from overseas. That’s a sign that your product or service is of interest, and potentially in demand internationally. Respond to the opportunities and see what happens. Don’t forget that a good international plan–as simple as one on the back of a napkin–can help map out your goals and objectives to keep you focused on what you are trying to achieve on the international front.
2. You have plentiful production capabilities but not enough work to keep production lines moving and workers busy.
Walk your factory floors. Do you see factory workers hanging out and telling jokes with little assembly movement? That’s a surefire sign that you are underutilizing capacity in your manufacturing facility. Get those lines moving and workers busy. Look overseas to keep your plant operating at optimal production capacity.
3. When you work a local trade show, international visitors show more interest than local visitors.
After you work a trade show, sort out your business cards. Let’s hope you took notes at the show and detailed the commitments made on the back of each card. Do you see lots of international interest? Then go after it! Follow up on all international leads as soon as possible, when the interest is hot, and see where it takes you.
4. You’re starting to saturate your local market and there’s only one way to grow: internationally.
When you see your domestic sales start to stagnate or dry up, consider exporting. However, the ideal time to look at international opportunities is when you are riding high on strong local business. Don’t wait until expanding international becomes a desperate act (e.g., domestic sales plunge) versus a pro-active measure to go after exciting opportunities in new overseas markets.
5. Face reality: You need to reduce dependence on existing markets.
Sure, your business is booming now, but look to the future for what could potentially go wrong (or hopefully continue to go right). Protect your company against the risk of decline in domestic sales by expanding internationally, using the Internet, and licensing or franchising your products or services. This is a prudent way to hedge against natural slowdowns, economic headwinds and seasonal problems.
6. Something triggers development of new applications for existing products that can be offered to new international buyers.
This could be a prospective customer understands the value of your product and asks you to produce something special that is fairly close to what you currently make but will be used differently in his market. What other applications is your product or service good for? Take Arm & Hammer’s baking soda, as an example. It doesn’t have to be used only as a fridge deodorizer. It also cleans and helps bake perfect cookies. Listen to existing and prospective customers–wherever they may be located. Think beyond the everyday uses of things as well as cultural constraints and you’ll be amazed at the international opportunities that arise.
Laurel Delaney runs Chicago-based GlobeTrade.com, a leading management consulting and marketing solutions company dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small businesses go global. She is the creator of The Global Small Business Blog, ranked No. 1 in the world for entrepreneurs and small businesses interested in going global. She is currently at work on a new book on exporting to be published February 2014. You can reach Laurel via email.
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