One of the biggest things I tell entrepreneurs is to think beyond their geographic location. Working inside a single box — or city, in this case — can inhibit a company’s creative potential and ability to innovate. Sure, there are more competitors the farther you venture from home base. But you can’t grow if you’re going after .1% of the market — and you’ll be at the mercy of that .1% if you limit yourself.
There are always exceptions, of course. But generally, most businesses can scale both domestically and internationally. Even if you own something tied to a physical location, like a moving company, you can expand to other markets. The key is to grow your contact base intentionally and push your comfort zone to include a much bigger area than your immediate surroundings.
Social media has made it easier to connect and expand your footprint of contacts. You still need a starting point, however, if you don’t want to waste a lot of time and money.
Build Relationships to Take Your Business International
When you shift your focus overseas, you’ll need an interpreter — not to grasp the language, but to understand the nuances of working in each market. Each country or region has its own way of doing business, and knowing that before you engage will set you up for success. As we all know, a first impression can’t easily be undone, particularly if you’ve made clear your intentions to gain people’s business.
That’s why developing a relationship with someone well connected in that country can give you the ability to both navigate customs and quickly access a contact base. You won’t be 100% successful with this alone, but that’s OK — building rapport and getting a better view into the business landscape is the goal here. Know that, going in, some contacts will work and some won’t. That’s just the nature of doing business across the globe (or anywhere, really). You and your services or products simply won’t click with everyone, and needs and tastes change drastically from culture to culture.
Still, invest the time in building relationships. In Denmark, Brazil, Israel, and other markets, it’s taken me a couple of attempts. But once I found the right colleague, we were able to quickly find ways to do business or at least make progress. And the truth is that it took different approaches in each of those countries, and that was something I had to adjust to and accept.
Even if it takes you 10 tries to find the right key contact, that’s still going more effective than individually reaching out to international clients with no prior presence in their area. One of the most important things to learn in business is how to merge hundreds of asks through a central source. Cold calling is an absolute last resort. Spend your time on making key contacts — they can accomplish in weeks what it would take you years to do on your own.
Help International Businesses and Entrepreneurs Work Domestically
Naturally, there’s a flip side to this equation. Where you work, you have a certain level of expertise and cultural understanding. The other way to build international relationships is to become the person who helps international companies navigate things stateside.
This can also offer you a way to work in their market by first providing help here. This can be as simple as helping entrepreneurs understand the nuances of the advertising market or as extensive as helping them find ways to operate in the United States, from navigating city ordinances to grasping tax law. How you manage this will obviously vary based on your core skills.
We’ve all received a bogus email — or 10 — from someone internationally offering something completely false. Don’t respond to those. Use reputable resources to find international founders. If you’re interested in helping international founders, this guide details how you can help the most when it comes to financing. Use an international talent connector like PassRight, which specializes in bringing international talent to the United States.
Centralized sources will save you a lot of time in trying to find people — you’ll already know they’re interested in working here, and you’ll have a finger on the pulse of what they’re looking to accomplish. Your partnership fit will be much easier to gauge. In fact, when I researched this arena for the first time, I was surprised to learn how large the international-to-U.S. market is. You will be able to find the right people to develop long-term connections with here in the United States; it just may take some legwork to locate them.
The old adage “It’s who you know” is always true, and helping international entrepreneurs get a foothold here is a way to pay it forward. The thought of taking your business international can seem overwhelming, scary, and time-consuming, regardless of which side of the border you’re starting from or how many opportunities await you.
Beyond working with centralized sources, I found international opportunities by speaking. Serving as a keynote speaker has opened up a lot of opportunities for me, both in the U.S. and abroad. I was able to increase my visibility with people I could help or who were able to help me; establishing connections with people who already knew what I was about was enormously helpful in building a strong relationship from the get-go.
Find centralized contacts. Keep it simple. Run everything through a few trusted sources, and build that network outward over time. In reverse, you can be a similarly valued partner here. Do those two things, and you’ll grow your business’s international presence quickly.