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GOING GLOBAL: How Entrepreneurs are Taking their Business to New Borders

There are 6.5 billion people living on this planet. To the environmentalist, that figure immediately conjures up fears of pollution and global warning. To the true entrepreneur, however, 6.5 billion people means 6.5 billion potential customers.

As small business owners get caught up in the daily challenges of running their company, they are often unable to see the vast range of opportunities that are increasingly presenting themselves in the global market.

However, as entrepreneurship expert Evan Carmichael is quick to point out, there is only so big a business can expand within its own borders. "It doesn't matter what your product or service is, eventually your growth will hit a ceiling," he says. "More and more, entrepreneurs are recognizing that they live in a global village, and they need to begin operating as such."

According to Carmichael, now is the ideal time for entrepreneurs to begin looking to tap into foreign markets. "Whether you're looking for cheaper labour and lower operating costs on the manufacturing side, or to gain access to larger markets and boost demand, expanding overseas is increasingly becoming necessary to compete in the globalized economy," he says. "For the entrepreneur who truly wants to gain the advantage over his competitors, it's not even a matter of choice anymore."

Few business owners would likely argue with Carmichael about the advantages of expanding overseas, but they are all too aware of the challenges in doing so. While the Internet has helped level the playing field for small businesses wishing to compete internationally, taking a company into a foreign country still poses a unique set of risks over operating at home. "It's not as easy as just opening up an office in Beijing or Mexico City," says Carmichael. "Entrepreneurs need to take into account everything from language, to customs, to government policies and regulations."

Before business owners begin to think about expanding overseas, Carmichael suggests a number of steps they should take to evaluate their international readiness. "Businesses need to asses whether they have the necessary financial resources and skilled personnel to venture abroad in the first place," he says. "If they do, entrepreneurs then need to determine their markets both where and how to target their products and begin building a solid local reputation."

Entrepreneurs looking to enter international markets can either do so directly or through distributors, with each having its own set of pros and cons. "Selling directly is ideal if your product needs a lot of customer support," says Carmichael. "Using distributors, however, is often cheaper and also easier in societies that are more closed to foreigners."

Whatever route they choose, small business owners need to be careful not to expand too quickly, says Carmichael. "Let your revenue guide your growth," he says. "Don't grow faster than you can afford or you will find yourself back at home faster than you had planned."

And, a final tip from Carmichael: "Join all the frequent flyer programs you can find. If you're going to be flying all over the world, you might as well make the most of it."
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