Taking a young business global shouldn't be a long-term dream — it should be a reality. But going global, even in the fully-connected Web world, still requires more than just hanging up an Internet shingle and watching orders come in. To build a successful international presence from Day One, you need not only the right technology, but the right people.
Why take a new business global? Because chances are, your established competition is already playing on the world market, and those who follow you will not be content to wait patiently to grow. Pricing your offerings most efficiently while still offering a high quality of service requires exposure to international markets for employees and partners as well as for customers. At NetSuite, we put our support operations in places around the world where we can find American-certified CPAs to provide product support. That gives us a huge advantage over our competitors who can't find CPAs to provide support — they can't find them in America, or anywhere else in the world, at a price that allows them to put these in front of customers in a support role.
No matter where your expansion takes you, the first person you hire is the most critical. You need people who will both take your organizational DNA into the new territory on the one hand, and be able to build a presence and a culture which is uniquely suited to that country on the other. It is just as important to retain that cultural connection to your headquarters as it is to create an environment in which everybody feels that they are still a part of a distinctly local team, and sees the head of their office as their day-to-day leader.
At the end of the day, however, all of your satellite locations must be linked in real-time with the flagship. As much power as there is in reaching customers through the Web, there is just as much in being able to reach all of your locations and employees through the public Internet as well. Technologies that share not just leads and reports but training and corporate vision are crucial to ensuring that your far-flung operations act as a coordinated unit. You reap those benefits best when you build your global operations on the Web from the very first day.
Technology can only take you so far. If you commit to sell a product or service to a foreign country, you may well need to commit not only to translating a shopping cart entry, but offering localized ongoing customer support to those customers. Whether you plan to add two points of presence, or two hundred, the exercise remains the same — consider the efficiencies each new territory can add to your business and play to those strengths. Don't be afraid to experiment. You should plan to learn just as much from your overseas offices as they learn from you.
International expansion is not something to be feared, nor is it something you must wait to do until you have completely saturated a home market — by then, your competitors will have snapped up the foreign territories which could be helping your business today. Take advantage of the tremendous opportunities afforded by the unprecedented free flow of people and information throughout the globe, and build your business around principles of real-time connectivity and a willingness to explore. Those Petri dishes you seed around the world can provide more than incremental growth and revenue — they can bring opportunities and beneficial evolution that keep you one step ahead of the pack.