Most of your potential customers don’t live in your own country. That’s certainly true for Turbine. For example, here in the UK, there are 62 million people but for every Brit there are 100 people in the rest of the world. This is why we are committed to selling worldwide and, in fact, most of our customers are not in the UK, as you can see from the map.
But how do you reach them? How do you get started?
I’ve built three different businesses in my career: a computer games company, a marketing company and now Turbine. In each case, exports and sales to multinational companies drove their expansion. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
- Build a global shop front. It’s cheaper and easier than ever to build an ecommerce website. At Turbine, we use the free WordPress content management system and that works very well. Services such as Shopify and Magento Go let you create professional-looking e-commerce site quickly and cheaply. Even a company store on eBay or Amazon can get you started.
- Credit card payments. It can be difficult to collect payment from overseas companies but if you take payment up-front by credit card or services like Google Checkout or PayPal, you can reduce the risk dramatically. This approach works for services just as easily as goods and you can go for stage payments on larger projects. You can send invoices directly from PayPal, for example, or integrate it into online invoicing tools like FreshBooks.
- Beat translation blues. Another worry for would-be exporters is the cost and difficulty of localisation and providing sales or customer support in a different language. Using agents or resellers is one approach. Or you can stick to English-speaking countries. We get already 60%+ of our sales from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa. That’s 400m potential customers right there.
- Outsourcing and offshoring. Sites like Elance, Guru and oDesk make it easy to outsource and, potentially, offshore tasks like web development, SEO, marketing, graphic design and customer support. My experience is that you still need to put in a lot of work to find and manage good people but these sites let you fish in a low-cost, global talent pool. You can also outsource advertising with Google AdWords, Bing Advertising and LinkedIn, which let you target customers in different countries and build business even without a local brand.
- Simplify logistics. Amateurs talk about strategy but professionals talk about logistics. You can outsource this too. For example Fulfilment by Amazon means you can ship your goods via their warehouses and distribution centres. Alternatively, you can ship direct from the UK and pass the cost onto your buyers.
- Start small, think big. By keeping the costs down and outsourcing as much as possible, you can lower the risk and be more experimental. Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup advocates an iterative approach to building a business starting with a ‘minimum viable product’.
- ABT. Always be testing! Use tools like Google Analytics Content Experiments and Optimizely to test the impact of changes to your website. We found that even small changes to the design or wording on a landing page can increase conversions dramatically. Also experiment with product names, packaging and other changes. Nothing’s sacred except hard data.
- Telepresence. Skype is a great tool for staying in touch with customers, suppliers and partners worldwide. It’s free and online videoconferencing is better than email for building relationships. With a Skype In number you can get low-cost local phone numbers in countries around the world and have the calls route through to the UK.
- Build relationships. The best market research is actually selling in the market and the best insight comes from customers. Building a relationship, especially with early adopters is a great way to learn what they like or don’t like. Some of our best product development ideas have come from customer feedback.
- Breakthrough technology. You can use technology to get an edge on larger but slower-moving competitors. Keep your eyes open for what’s new! In 1991, I bought a Canon CLC-10 printer than scanned and printed in colour. It was very expensive but it let me produce computer game designs and proposals that were leagues ahead of my competitors. That one piece of technology launched a whole business.
Exporting needn’t be complex, expensive or difficult. With the right approach, you can start small and build quickly. With low cost and low risk, there’s nothing to lose and everything to play for.