If you're an exporter, e-business offers some clear advantages: it allows you to do exploratory research, find new contacts, develop markets around the globe, manage customer relationships and reduce turnaround time.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when using the Internet in the global market.
First, it's always a good idea to customize your site to suit your target market. If you market to countries where English is not commonly spoken, for example, make your site available in your customers' language. Translate at least a summary page for foreign-language searches, along with order pages and catalogues. For professional results, be sure to use experienced translators. Steer clear of online translation tools and native speakers with little translation experience.
There are also other ways of customizing websites to suit a foreign target market. Country flags, local spelling variants and terminology (flavor vs. flavour, cell vs. mobile, etc.), local content and country-specific references (with legal content, for example) all serve to increase user confidence and comfort.
Likewise, retailers who display prices in local currency can give the site a more local flavour and help customers compare prices; it gives them one more reason to choose your business rather than the local competition.
Also, make sure you can accept payments in local and U.S. funds and that your billing and ordering processes are as simple and easy to use as your competitors'.
Security is essential in internet transactions for both retail and business-to-business (B2B) operations. You will probably use some form of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to protect data transmitted between you and your customers. You must also protect the information on your site from hackers. Firewalls can help prevent electronic infiltration. Searchsecurity.com offers a collection of articles on Internet security.
You will need a digital certificate - a secure electronic "key" that authenticates the partners in each online transaction. If you host your own site, you will require a server certificate, and many B2B transactions will require you to have a personal certificate for secure e-mails.
Some businesses can benefit from the Internet's potential to eliminate middlemen such as brokers, wholesalers and distributors. Still, such companies can often help e-businesses with local warehousing, drop-shipping and other order fulfillment services. Couriers such as UPS, FedEx or Purolator can also help with these types of logistics.
Electronic markets are another option to consider. Big and growing, like giant intermediaries, they provide a forum for buyers to contact sellers. There are many competing e-markets; you'll probably want to join more than one.
A great deal of exporting and e-business information is readily available. A simple search will turn up hundreds of useful articles. To keep their business in the know, many companies designate employees to surf their competitors' and related industry websites and participate in industry-specific newsgroup forums.
One of the most difficult hurdles for small businesses is dealing with local taxes and regulations. Fortunately, most target countries have online resources to answer your basic questions. Still, you will most likely need to make contacts with local brokers or other export-import specialists.
Canada Border Services Agency has a Handy Guide for Exporters; the Department of Foreign Affairs has some technical information on international trade. Export Development Canada (EDC) offers economic reports on over 50 countries. The Standards Council of Canada offers an Export Alert! to keep you abreast of changes in your target market.
E-business offers exciting potential but is just one route to take in order to become a successful exporter. Don't neglect traditional marketing efforts such as trade shows, sales force motivation, advertising and networking - all of which can also help you raise your visibility and develop new business.
If you are seeking support, a BDC consultant can offer e-business advice, and BDC's comprehensive e-strat program can help adapt, develop and implement a customized e-business strategy.
Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.