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Around the Block or Around the World

UPSThe International Business Series is brought to you by UPS. Discover the new logistics. It levels playing fields and lets you act locally or globally. It’s for the individual entrepreneur, the small business, or the large company. Put the new logistics to work for you.

global shippingToday’s business, regardless of size, isn’t limited by geography. The days of opening up markets with large scale expansions and trade agreements have gone by the wayside due to the borderless nature of the Internet. Now, anyone with an Internet connection can do business on a global scale. But, if you want to find markets to expand your business outside of the U.S. there are some things you should understand before you get started.

Know what you don’t know

Even if you only plan to sell a few items globally from your ecommerce web site, your efforts to expand will benefit from gaining knowledge about doing business internationally. Best practices, global communication tips, payment, trade opportunities and shipping are issues that require some study and vary from country to country.

This International Business Development Series by Cindy King is a great place to start your education. The U.S. Department of Commerce offers some nice research on global competition. Also check out sites like BuyUSA.gov, Export.gov , and Trade.gov

Test the waters

One of the easiest ways to expand is to do so in the handful of English speaking countries around the world. The language barrier can add extra logistics if you’re just getting started.

Make use of free and low-cost tools such as Skype – to make international calls, PayPal – to facilitate International transactions, UPS small biz (yes a sponsor of this post, but great tools and info) and even Google Translate – to help with basic language translations is a great way to start branching out without spending a great deal of money to set up shop.

Understand how your brand translates

One mistake small businesses can make when reaching out to global audiences is to misunderstand the impact, or lack of, that important brand elements or terminology may have.

For example, my brand, Duct Tape Marketing, carries a great deal of impact and communicates a very specific message to North American small businesses, but has far less and even confusing impact even in English speaking countries like Great Britain.

If you plan to get serious about global expansion you may need to reassess many of the elements of your brand to make sure they translate effectively.

Make your site global friendly

For many small, global businesses the website is the port of entry. It’s essential that you start look for ways to Internationalize your site and in some cases even create localized versions. You may even consider using a professional translation service to create localized landing pages and versions of your site.

Add a map to show your location and offer free translation tools so that visitors can translate on their own. Get local testimonials as soon as you can and feature customers from other parts of the world to demonstrate your reach.

Even if your entire site is in English there are ways to make it more global friendly. Want to know the best way to write English for a global audience? Subscribe to the The International Herald Tribune – the global edition of the New York Times features short, simple sentences, avoids cliches and sticks to active verbs – all good examples of writing for a non native reader.

Get feet on the street

If your international efforts pay off and you want to expand further you may want to find local representation. At the very least you should take a trip and learn what you can about some of the countries you plan to sell in. Business.gov offers some great resources on traveling abroad for business.

One of the best ways to learn about a region’s business climate is to attend a trade show related to your industry. This is a great way to sniff out potential product sources, local representatives and make state and local government contacts.

Greening Is a Cultural Thing

UPSThe International Business Series is brought to you by UPS. Discover the new logistics. It levels playing fields and lets you act locally or globally. It’s for the individual entrepreneur, the small business, or the large company. Put the new logistics to work for you.

Going green or adopting a proactive stance on sustainable practices has risen to the level of mainstream conversation in the same way that other business practices such as safety and training have.

But, truly creating a green culture goes much deeper than buying energy efficient light bulbs, monitoring computer energy, recycling waste and committing to earth friendly marketing, manufacturing and shipping processes.

In fact, it goes deeper than creating green events, employee rideshares, community gardens, sustainable design, coworking and collaborative offices.

While these are important elements in the cycle, a true green business comes from embracing the idea at level of a higher purpose or what some might call mission.

Being green isn’t just about recycling, it’s about nurturing, growing things, instead of just using them. In fact, being green has as much to do with purpose and people as it does plastic and paper.

Green business practices can be inconvenient and in some cases more expensive to implement so often, like safety and training initiatives they are given lots of ink in the annual report, but exist at only the most basic level.

Policy can only take an organization so far. The deepest green is about growth and nurturing at the cultural level of a business.

If a company’s primary purpose is to grow and nurture its people, community, industry and planet, then even the smallest business can call itself green in a way that makes a meaningful difference.

The outcome of this kind of thinking is a green business that happens to make or sell something rather than a business the adopts green principles.

The simplest way to move your organization to this way of thinking is to tackle it from both ends. In other words, hire at the most basic level, people that embrace green thinking and embrace, at the highest level, audacious green goals, such as building a company that produces zero net waste.

The combination of this top down and bottom up thinking at the tactical level can help an organization start living nurturing at its roots.

Some of my favorite green business resources include – Coworking.org, Greenbiz and The Aspen Institute.

For a great list of state and local energy efficiency resources, check out Business.gov.

For some inspiration check out TerraCycle, a company with a business model that creates products from other people’s waste streams and has a net negative manufacturing cost – other people pay them to acquire their raw material.