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The top Fortune 500 companies derive more than 50% of revenues from foreign markets. That fact alone should encourage small- to medium-size companies to follow their example. Experience has shown that if your products and services sell in U.S. markets, they will probably be attractive to consumers abroad. You may have to make some changes, but the payback may well be worth the investment.
In the global market, however, not all is sweetness and light. The warnings that ancient cartographers put on their maps may still be valid. “There Be Dragons!” these maps warned about areas of the world of which little was known.
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Of course, no such place exists any longer, not even in the business world. The advent and proliferation of the Internet has made limitless the information available; however, some of the most important information is not found on the Internet or in print resources.
Rarely do you run across articles that point out dishonest business practices around the world. There are infinite numbers of scams, but how often do we hear about them except from people who have been burnt? And most of those who have are reluctant to confess their ignorance, naiveté or foolishness. How often do we read about business owners who have cheated their partners, customers, suppliers, investors and even their own employees? Yet it happens every day, everywhere.
So, how do you avoid the business dragons and sea monsters that might await you? Do your homework.
1. Start with the Internet. Google the specific country you are interested in, and look for the official government Web site, which will offer a lot of the basic information you need.
2. Contact the embassies or consulates of the countries you are interested in. Speak with the commercial attaché, and ask to browse through their telephone directories. Inquire whether they have conducted studies of specific industries of interest, and ask for contacts if they have.
3. Talk with people who do or have done business in those countries. They can probably share their own learning experiences.
4. Contact the U.S. Department of Commerce. It offers a wonderful selection of useful information sources.
5. Contact the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Division for a contact list of all the American Chambers of Commerce around the world. AMCHAMS, as they are known, are a superb source of specific country commercial and industrial information.
Note that the best information, however, comes from physically visiting the country or countries that you are considering. Nothing replaces personal experience and what you see on the ground in the specific country. You will come away with a greater confidence in your knowledge and a better idea of what might be best for your business.
In all cases, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, especially about scams, dishonest people and other pitfalls that are avoidable—including businesses that are failing.
Yes, there be dragons, but you can learn where they are and thus avoid them.
Back to the June issue.