Is going global right for your business?
By J. Lenora Bresler, J.D., SPHR, ASC
A report from Go for the Greens Conference September 19-20, 2013
Woman-owned businesses never want to think too small or leave opportunities unexplored, so said panelists at the recent NAWBO-sponsored Go for the Greens conference. However, selling and buying out of country has inherent risks and can be a complicated, tedious, and time-consuming task. Therefore, a lot of research is required before you launch into “going global.”
You need to research exactly what is involved, and this begins with determining what countries might be ripe for your goods and services. Ways to determine this could include attending conferences sponsored by such organizations as International Association of Entrepreneurs, Athena, and the US Commercial Service. Grants are sometimes available through the Small Business Administration for export trade analyses to be conducted by organizations such as USF SBA by which you can get expert help on which countries are the most likely candidates for your goods and services.
Panelists stressed that it is best if you can enter into this endeavor with some protection. Therefore, they suggest going to a country of interest with a trade delegation such as a chamber of commerce or even State of Florida trade mission. The Miami Chamber of Commerce is apparently very active in this regard. In this way, you are somewhat protected and guided. Protocol will be explained to you, and meetings already set up for you. It is a much easier way to do it than trying to do it on your own.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Therefore, avail yourself of help from any source possible and learn the cultural norms of the country in which you want to do business. A misstep can have disastrous consequences for business. Therefore, you have to understand how the foreign country views things like attire, seating locations based on status, time, negotiation practices, presentation of business cards, the giving of gifts and what gifts and when and to whom, etc. Also, because of cultural differences, it is imperative that every detail of a contract be discussed and spelled out including shipping, currency, the ease with which bank to bank payments are made, etc. Many countries tack on enormous taxes. These taxes must be figured into any proposal you write and it must be decided who is going to take the responsibility for being sure those foreign taxes are paid.
Panelists cautioned that although the return on investment for going global can potentially be huge depending on your business, the initial investment can be very costly not only in terms of money but in time and energy. Many cultures around the world emphasize relationship and so, it may take repeated (expensive) personal visits to the other country before a contract actually develops. Whereas business contracts can sometimes be confirmed within days or weeks in America, business relationships overseas often take years to evolve. Therefore, the potential ROI must be substantial to justify such investment on the part of the woman-owned business owner.
Panelists responded candidly to questions from the floor including how business women can be successful in countries where culturally women are considered inferior. Panelists with experience in both the Far East, the Middle East, and South America concurred that American women are treated very differently and actually most respectfully. They said it is sad and somewhat disturbing that the same men who would willingly meet with them (American women) would probably not have even met with a businesswoman of their own country. Another attendee raised the issue of bribery and corruption. Panelists indicated that there is actually something called the Corruption scale which rates countries by their cultural norm in these matters. Panelists said that you have to consult your own moral compass and determine what you are willing to overlook in order to do business. Another attendee cited the American law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids American companies from engaging in conduct which in our country would be considered illegal bribery but is common practice in other nations. Panelists said that if you are going to conduct business overseas, you do need to become familiar with that law’s provisions as well as case law which interpret that law in specifics and which indicate where there may be some leeway or discretion.