The challenges small U.S. businesses face in growing globally are vast, but the opportunities can be significant. In this process, becoming a service provider to Global 500 companies – many of which generate 40-50 percent of their revenue in overseas markets – can be one of the most efficient ways for smaller companies to enter the fast track as they expand their services domestically and overseas.
For example, many large enterprises have budgets in the tens of millions to secure their intellectual property overseas, and use those budgets in large part to task service providers with foreign patent filings and services such as translations. They have rigorous requirements, and if a professional services business is able to meet – and even exceed – those requirements, their chance of success on a global scale will be that much greater.
If you’re lucky enough to already be working with a multinational enterprise, your path to global success will be more clearly marked. If not, make obtaining a strong partnership with a multinational enterprise a top priority before even considering the global step.
Once you’re on board with a multinational enterprise, with the goal of taking your own business global, your research really begins. Consider some lessons we learned from our partnerships with multinational enterprises:
Ready to Go Global? Where?
From the first decade or so in business, we contracted with translators around the world for their language and cultural expertise. That worked (and continues to work) for our business, but as we’ve discovered throughout the years, being in close proximity to the international offices of our largest clients is highly valued. In addition, it’s proven highly valuable to our company in particular as we strive to hire native speakers who are intimately familiar with the culture and technical nature of each translation we perform.
In 2002, we decided we really needed to do business where our clients were doing business. Before we even attempted to open each office, we had to determine a few things:
- First, were we ready for the operational expenditures and complexities a new office would bring?
- Second, if yes to the first question, which country or countries made sense for our clients and for our business. If our clients had offices in several countries, why should we open in Germany rather than the U.K.? Why in Europe first instead of Asia? Which country in Asia first?
Ultimately, decide where your clients need you most, and also how that location will benefit your company as you leverage the new office to grow your business. For MultiLing, that meant our first international office in Germany, then one in Peru, Italy, and eventually Japan, Korea, and most recently, China.
Once you’ve decided which country makes sense for your first global office, make sure you start thinking locally as well. Know the local business laws and processes, whether hiring local or bringing in native staff. While managers from your home office (who already understand your company culture) can be valuable, we’ve found it’s even more valuable for our clients if we have intimate knowledge of the language, deep understanding of the local culture and business norms, as well as a good overview of the local laws and processes for our industry.
In 2012, IKEA didn’t do such a great job of this. When it released its new furniture catalog to the German market, its new candelabrum was named “Armleuchter Söder.” In Swedish, “Söder” means “South.” Customers in Germany, however, immediately think of the Bavarian Minister of Finance, whose last name is “Söder.” Furthermore, a special connotation is hidden in the word “Armleuchter:” it means both candelabra and bonehead. The German news was full of articles about the “bonehead Söder.” Not what IKEA had in mind.
Now What? Continue to Do Good Work – and Expand
It might sound elementary, but it’s worth repeating whether global or not: If you do quality work, every time, your company will be trusted to do even more quality work. In fact, in addition to continuing – and even increasing – your work within one section – or country – of your client’s business, doing quality work will give you a much higher chance of expanding your services into other departments or countries.
If you’re trusted and do what you say you will do, you’ll be top-of-mind when other managers are looking for similar services – or related services your client might be looking to outsource. The old adage is true, it’s much easier – and cheaper – to keep a client than to replace one.
Ultimately, working with a global enterprise will give you the relationships and experience your company needs to quickly grow into a global business yourself. While the challenges of running a global business are different for each company – and in each country – we have found that it gets easier each time we open a new office, and should likewise become easier for your business as well.
Fast Track to Globalization: Becoming a Key Provider To Top Global Firms