It’s never been easier to start an online business from home.
Whether you’re selling your writing, business expertise or handmade crafts, the internet has opened up a world of opportunities.
There’s no doubt it’s hard work of course. But more people are discovering the joys of being their own boss and working from anywhere they choose.
Taking that great business idea global might sound like a far-off dream. When you think of an international business, you probably don’t imagine a solo entrepreneur, based in a spare room with a computer! But it can be a simple, cost-effective way to reach a huge number of potential customers – and make more money online...
Think your jewellery designs could be a hit in Japan? Or perhaps European collectors would snap up your books or antiques? There could be clients for your services, whether that’s writing or web design, on the opposite side of the world. And you don’t need much more than an internet connection and a little background knowledge to get started.
Research your markets
The first step is to find out where there’s a market for your products. If you already have a website, (and if not, why not?) then there are plenty of free tools to find out where your visitors are. Google Analytics is one of the easiest to use. If you’re already attracting interest from users in Norway or New Zealand, then why not adapt your website and target them directly?
Google Global Market Finder is another free, and often underused tool. It can show you where there’s demand for your keywords – and your products. It also gives you the cost of pay-per-click advertising in different countries. You don’t need to use this, but it’s a good indicator of the local competition.
Choose your platform
If you’ve got a physical product to sell, then consider sites such as eBay and Etsy. They charge a small fee for listing, and have customers around the world. There are also local alternatives in different countries. In China, bargain hunters love to trawl Taobao.com, while British site Ebid only charges you if your product sells.
Google Product Search (which used to have the more colourful name Froogle) is a free way to get your products listed in European and Asian countries.
Make yourself easy to contact
To make money, you need to convert those casual browsers into buyers. The key is to make it as easy as possible for them. Make sure prices are displayed in the local currency, and your ordering form is simple to use. Most people won’t want to make expensive international phone calls, so it’s usually best to handle all customer service queries by email.
Research local payment quirks – is Paypal popular, or do people prefer to use credit cards? You might be surprised to find that checks are still widely used in European countries such as France and Germany.
You’ll also need to think about shipping if you’re sending products overseas. Don’t forget to make allowances for things like import taxes and shipping. It’s best to research trading laws before you get started, rather than being caught out later on.
Make yourself local
If you’re serious about marketing overseas, then sooner or later you’ll want to have individual websites for each country. There are many reasons for this: most users tend to prefer a site that looks local, and regard it as more trustworthy. It’ll also help you score higher in the local search engine rankings – Google and its competitors all take location into effect. And finally, it’ll allow you to adapt your message for different cultures.
Of course, for many countries this will involve translating your site. It might be tempting to go through free tools such as Google Translate, but these tend to produce over-literal, or even garbled, results. It’s best to hire native speakers to make sure your message isn’t lost in translation. You can keep costs down by only translating a few main pages for a new market. If this proves successful, you can translate your entire site.
The good news is, there’s much less content in languages other than English. This can help you climb the search engine rankings in your chosen market.
Network and be social!
Social media is a great way to connect with customers, and find out about new opportunities and network. Setting up separate Twitter and Facebook accounts means you can make sure your message is relevant to your customers. It’s also a good way to network with other entrepreneurs, pick up tips and advice. Dropping in cultural references and commenting on local news and events will help keep people interested and give it a local flavor.
Of course, there’s no magic recipe for overnight success, and there are plenty of pitfalls to trip up would-be global entrepreneurs. It takes hard work, research and a little local knowledge to be make your business work. You’ll probably find you need to adjust your message as you go along, and you might be surprised by which products are popular (or not).
But once you’ve got the basics right, the rewards can be huge. You can sit back and welcome customers from all over the world - from the comfort of your home office.
About: Christian Arno started Lingo24 in 2001 from a spare bedroom in his parents’ home. Since then it’s grown to be a global company with hubs on four continents and clients in more than 60 countries.
In the past twelve months, they have translated more than 45 million words for businesses in every industry sector, including MTV and World Bank.