By Amine Khechfe
Let’s face it – if you’re a small business owner, international expansion can seem daunting. Between language barriers, customs forms, delivery confirmation and shipping bans, “going global” looks more like a quagmire of confusing rules and regulations than a way to grow your customer base.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s really a matter of having the right tools in place. Just ask some of our Endicia customers – they’ve seen revenues grow upwards of 20 percent by going global.
With worldwide ecommerce approaching $1.2 trillion by the end of this year – and with trade agreements like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in the works – it’s an opportune time for small businesses to look abroad.
To help guide the process, I’d like to share a few points that every small business owner or entrepreneur should consider before making the leap to global powerhouse:
- Start small and in your native tongue
A second language isn’t always necessary. There are plenty of English-speaking countries that offer a solid gateway into international business.
I always advise people to start with Canada. Then add locations like the U.K., Australia, Singapore, etc. Once you get comfortable with these countries, the process of expanding elsewhere often becomes easier.
- Know your product
Another approach to selling abroad is determining which countries offer viable customer bases. Part of the process lies in understanding your product and researching key markets.
For example, if your business specializes in jewelry or luxury items, you might consider shipping to Russia, China or Brazil. Their burgeoning middle class means a growing market for fine goods.
- Pick your carrier
Carefully evaluate the pros and cons to each carrier and pick the one that makes the most sense for your business. For example, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) now offers “First-Class Package International Service” – an affordable option for lighter-weight items. Plus, USPS recently added international tracking and confirmation to 15 new countries. Not only is this the sole service offering of its type, but it’s also generally the least expensive and preferred option for online sellers.
- Explore automation technologies
The most important rule about global shipping? Don’t do it by hand.
Global ecommerce is fraught with international shipping bans that range from the serious to the downright ridiculous. For example, you can’t ship a deck of cards to Spain, bells to Italy or mosquito nets to Vietnam. Navigating these bans is nearly impossible without automation technology, which alerts you before you ship a forbidden item.
Automation technology also helps with filling out customs forms, which can be a cumbersome task. Software provided by electronic postage vendors like Endicia and others integrates directly into your product database and fills out the forms automatically once a label is printed.
Remember – international shipping is almost always worth the risk. It provides not just a means of additional revenue, but also the opportunity to communicate your brand to a global audience. With the right tools in place, any ecommerce business can do it.
Amine Khechfe is co-founder of Endicia @Endicia), which offers postage and shipping solutions for small businesses.