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Going International — Without Destroying Your Business

by Tom Taulli, contributor, Forbes  /  As the old saying goes: With a website, your business is global.  /

Yes, there is a lot of truth to this. Yet a website does not necessarily mean you will get much traction in international markets. Instead, you will need to make serious investments.

So what are some of the steps you can take? And how can you avoid major risks to your business?

Well, let’s take a look:

#1 – Identify a Market that Makes Sense

Before taking the plunge, do lots of homework. Gauge your target customer, such as by getting answers to questions like:

  • Is there high demand for your offerings?
  • What will a customer pay?
  • What is the cost of acquisition?

In other words, you need to figure out the unit economics. Oh, and be conservative. Your estimates are likely to be too low!

But then you should dig even deeper. “You want your product to be a cultural fit,” said Jen O’Neal, who is the CEO of (the company is the world’s largest vacation rental search engine with more than 8 million listings). “Cultural tastes can vary dramatically across borders. For instance, we launched in Germany specifically because German people have a long history of staying in vacation rentals both within the country and throughout Europe.”

#2 – Getting Help

It’s important to note that the US government has lots of useful programs to help companies enter international markets. “You can set up an in-person meeting or call with the Commerce Department,” said Ed Marsh, who is the Exporting Advisor to American Express. “They will not only provide valuable advice but even help with making important introductions.”

For more on this, you can check out

#3 – Find A Local Partner

Because of the costs and logistics, the most effective first step into another country is to strike a partnership. After all, a local partner can provide on-the-ground expertise and credibility, such as with a trusted brand.

“For our product, we’ve had lots of success with going into foreign markets via mechanical service contractors,” said Jon Cooper, who is the head of business development at Augury. “But we have also been successful with distributors, which have secured quality leads.”

But even if you have partnerships, you still may want to have some level of a local presence. “It’s important to evaluate what operations you want in these remote offices, how readily available for hire are the skills you need in that city or region, if it has a cross-section of cultures and languages, and the level of corporate friendliness for HR and tax purposes,” said Matt Chasen, who is the co-founder and CEO of uShip. “You’ll also learn what makes sense to keep at your primary headquarters, assuming you can still meet the needs of your customers across time zones.”

#4 – Internationalize Your Website

OK, this sounds kind of obvious. But many companies get tripped up with their website strategy.

“International customers are more likely to trust your company and buy your products if your website is offered in their language,” said Jen. “In addition, you should consider tailoring the homepage experience to the local market. At, we’ve seen a nice jump in conversion rates for markets with a localized website.”

But this does not mean using automated systems like Google GOOGL -1.48% Translate. Instead, you should retain someone who not only speaks the language but understands the proper dialect.

“Check your tone, too, not just the language,” said Jen. “While your brand might be ‘fun and personable’ in the US, there’s a chance that won’t fly in another country. You may need to be more buttoned up, or in some cases, even edgier.”

But she also has some other recommendations, including:

  • Currency matters. One sure way to hurt conversion is to ask people to pay in a currency that isn’t their own. So make sure you’re able to display and transact in the local currency.
  • Try to secure a local domain (such as This will give your brand additional credibility with the locals and Google may reward sites with local domains with higher SEO rankings. That said, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to secure domains these days so you can extend the URL instead like did for its German website:

“I believe that you need to do everything you can to make your customers feel welcome on your website, no matter where they live,” said Jen.

Tom Taulli, a JD and Enrolled Agent, operates Pathway Tax, which provides year-round tax prep and help with IRS actions.

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