1. Understand the Impact of Culture: Culture impacts all of your interactions. Don’t discount the impact of culture on your communication style, business plan or marketing materials.
2. Don’t Make Assumptions: Just because a strategy worked well in the US, doesn’t mean that it will in another country. Explore how people buy your products or services in the cultures where you want to expand business before making strategic decisions about marketing and selling.
3. Customize Materials: Always customize your marketing materials and website by tailoring them to the local culture. Just translating your US website will not resonate culturally with local markets and shows a lack of interest in your targeted consumers. Always use professional translators. Language is highly localized and changes constantly. Using incorrect terminology can have disastrous results.
4. Watch Colors: Be diligent about your use of color. Colors mean very different things to different cultures and may have very strong significance. Find out what specific colors mean in an international market before making important choices on product design and marketing.
5. Partner Locally: Find a local company to partner with. This company can serve as your cultural guide, saving you time, minimizing mistakes and maximizing profit. In most cultures, introductions from a local person will be critical to booking business meetings and to being successful.
6. Learn The Local Culture: Do your due diligence on local cultural issues. Hire a cross-cultural consultant, read books, visit country websites, meet with local community members from the country where you are expanding. Join the local chamber of commerce to make connections and learn cultural differences. Take a research trip to the country or region as part of your market research before launching your company.
7. Watch Communication Styles: Be aware of your cultural communication style and how it is different than the predominant communication style of the culture you are expanding into. The US, as a general rule, has a very direct communication style. Americans tend to “tell it like it is.” Most of the rest of the world is more indirect. Be sensitive to this and pay attention to nonverbal communication clues as well. This is particularly true in Asia where nonverbal cues can dramatically alter the meaning of what is being said.
8. Be Sensitive to Other Languages: Be sensitive to people speaking English when it is not their native language. Speak slowly; don’t use acronyms, proverbs or idioms without explaining them. Don’t presume understanding without checking and put as much as possible in writing. Translate your business cards.
9. Be Patient: Going overseas, companies can tend to have a short-term focus and look for immediate results. Many cultures look to develop relationships, and position themselves for long-term success. Be willing to invest in numerous trips and endless cups of tea before making a deal. Impatience when negotiating is a sign that you are not investing in the long-term relationship and will make a negative impression that may be used against you.
10. Have Fun! It is an exciting adventure to become a global company. You will learn things that you never dreamed of, and eat things that you probably wish you had never known about. Have a sense of humor about it, and yourself, and be willing to apologize if something goes awry!