Since 1985, I have been running a Chicago-based consulting business that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs go global. It’s my single greatest professional passion. With more than 60,000 hours of work in the field, you can imagine the questions I am asked. Here are a few of my favorites along with my answers.
- What do I do if I don’t get paid on a transaction? In my case, I sold $1,250 worth of goods without a secure method of payment.
Oh, how we all have nightmares over this predicament. I assume you shipped on open account, which means payment is not required until the goods are manufactured and delivered. The amount we are talking about is small if you are a big business but sizable if you are a smaller business. I also assume you did everything right on the transaction (quality of product was letter perfect, transportation was according to specification and documents were prepared accurately, for example), yet you still did not receive payment. If you have lost all contact with your customer via email or telephone, here’s what you can do short of getting on a plane and dropping in on the customer to collect payment. Don’t laugh — clients have done this on transactions that are sizeable enough to impact their businesses’ bottom line, and it has worked. Yes, it can be expensive and, yes, it is time-consuming, but it sure beats stewing over it and not taking action.
Contact one of the International Trade Specialists based on your industry to find out more on the customer. Let’s say you are trying to collect payment from a customer in Ireland. Here’s an example of an office from the U.S. Commercial Service you can contact. They’re on the ground in Ireland and might be able to assist: http://export.gov/ireland/contactus/index.asp.
Contact the U.S. Embassy in the country where your customer is located. Again, in the Ireland example, reach out to: http://dublin.usembassy.gov/contact.html. See what you can find out about the customer and how the Embassy might assist in helping you collect payment.
Remember, if you did something wrong on the shipment and released the goods on open account, the customer is at liberty to withhold payment until you work out a solution. In that case, communicating with the customer is critical. If you’ve lost touch with them, you still will have to revert to the remedies mentioned above to make good with the customer.
- I don’t want to wallow in rules, regulation and documentation when it comes to shipping goods. I don’t have the time. What’s the work-around?
Call up or email a reputable transportation company. Let them know what you want to ship and see what they can do on your behalf to make the shipment as pain-free as possible. An experienced transportation company knows the lay of the land for doing business in just about every corner of the world. Sometimes your responsibility can be as simple as issuing a commercial invoice to accompany the international shipment, something you are accustomed to doing on domestic shipments. Inquire.
- My website and blog are launched and still, after six months, no new online customers. What am I doing wrong? How can I get customers worldwide to find me, let alone buy from me?
Are you posting updates to your blog talking about all the great things you are doing for your customers that not only grab other’s mindshare but also touch their hearts? Are you leveraging all the social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram with updates on news, trends, resources and articles that are related to your business and will help your customers grow?
The only way customers are going to find you the world over is if you deliver great content spread across many different online platforms during a protracted period of time — that’s how you capture attention, develop a following and eventually generate business. For example, let’s say you make great baseball caps. If I do a search on “great baseball caps” via Google, Bing or Yahoo, will your company name show up on the first page organically in search engine rankings? That’s what you must achieve to have customers find you and start to make purchases. Make sure the right messages get in front of the right people at the right time.
- Everybody is talking about going global, but I don’t see how it applies to me. I run a hair salon in Omaha, Nebraska. How can I take my business global? What am I missing here?
Do you have a website? I am assuming you do. That means if someone is traveling from overseas to Omaha, Nebraska, and needs a quick trim, massage, manicure or pedicure (assuming you offer these services), your salon could become the go-to place for worldly travelers provided you state on your website that international guests are welcome. See how going global can apply to your business? You just have to open your mind to the possibilities. For example, if you want to expand your customer base, why not start marketing specifically to a global market? Travelers need your services, too. Why not throw in a special Omaha souvenir when the customer shows up? By the way, every year Berkshire Hathaway hosts its Annual Shareholders Meeting in downtown Omaha. You might want to get your business featured at the Omaha Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. It could be big global business for you!
- I run a high-end retail gift store in Hinsdale, Illinois, and want to take all the products I offer and sell them online via an ecommerce store. I am overwhelmed just thinking about it. What’s the best approach on this project so I don’t put it off forever while my competitors end up snagging all the business?
Find an ecommerce platform that is simple, easy, and fast to set up, such as Shopify, and then contact a company like Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce Solutions to make sure you have the right prebuilt extensions ready. This will save you integration time and money and help you grow your business internationally. For a quick view of the four phases of international ecommerce that will enable you to become an international merchant, visit: http://www.pitneybowes.com/us/ecommerce/solutions/process.html.