Small Business

Written by Colin McClelland in collaboration with Google LLC

When the pandemic recedes behind us, the impact of hundreds of millions of more people shopping online will remain. There are two main lessons for Canadian businesses. One, those in the domestic market need to expand across borders to capture new customers. Two, when they enter new markets, they must adapt to local conditions to succeed.

Statistics on women-led businesses show they accounted for about 16% of all small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in 2017 (the latest Statistics Canada data) and of those just 11% exported.1 Meanwhile, exports present a huge potential for Canadian businesses. Thirty-nine per percent of all clicks to Canadian advertisers come from outside the country.2

The figures show there remains a lot of opportunity for women-owned companies in the export market despite many challenges that remain. Low survival rates and labour productivity are tied to how women have fewer networks,3 which is part of what expanding internationally can help solve.

Talk to a Scotiabank Small Business Advisor about how to expand your business internationally.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to go global.

1. Conduct market research on the demand for your products internationally.

Google Trends has a lot of information for every country showing what people are searching for when it comes to products and services.

  • Use Google Trends to identify what people are searching for locally to see if you are offering products and services that meet their needs.
  • Try out Google’s Market Finder,  a free, one-stop-shop for everything that a business needs to grow internationally. The tool will not only identify the best markets for your product or service, but also tell you how to prepare for new markets and suggest the right digital marketing solutions.
  • Monitor and analyze your target area’s social media to determine what’s hot, what’s not and where you can excel. Tools include Facebook Insights, Squarechain for Instagram and Twitter Analytics.

2. Study the rules and regulations of your target market.

Research the legal and financial requirements for foreign companies to operate in your target areas, both geographically and by industry. Read the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings to assess different countries. Some countries require foreign companies to have local partners and share intellectual property. Conduct due diligence on potential partners, suppliers and distributors across the entire process of production and sales. You might need to consult a lawyer who knows the landscape.

3. Prepare a business plan for your global expansion.

Create a business model incorporating a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis that should include your competitive advantage, potential customers, intellectual property risks, outsourcing needs, international trade routes and time zones. Determine market opportunities and pricing.

4. Discover small business resources for exporting.

Export Development Canada has an extensive guide for women business leaders exploring new markets. The EDC Export Help Hub can answer questions and connect your marketers with people in specific areas of know how. EDC recommends developing an export plan with the aid of Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service, EDC’s Trade Accelerator Program and Business Development Bank of Canada’s Business Strategy and Planning guide.

5. Secure small business funding for international expansion.

Check out Scotiabank lines of credit and loans for small businesses. Business Development Bank of Canada offers loans for women-owned small businesses and exporters. Provincial governments have grant and loan programs for women, such as these from Ontario and British Columbia. The Ontario site has links to programs in the rest of Canada, too. 

6. Ensure your ecommerce website is functional in international markets.

  • Set up one global website for your international business. You could set up a website for each new country you want to enter, but it takes longer, is more expensive and requires management across multiple sites. It’s better to have one easy-to-find .ca or .com website that offers different regional content with local languages and local payment options once customers enter.
  • Match local technology. Most places around the world have internet, but speeds vary. Don’t discourage shoppers from the outset by allowing your site to take too long to load. Compress images, remove pop-ups and reduce navigation links to increase your speed. Run diagnostics. Ensure your website works well on mobile devices, which are common shopping tools anywhere, but especially in emerging markets.
  • Match local payment options. The emerging economies of Africa and Asia often use ewallets and local mobile banking apps instead of credit cards and PayPal. In Brazil and parts of Africa, credit cards may be viable for ecommerce, but not approved for cross-border transactions. What some may consider are international shipping and payment methods may not be best for where you’re planning to sell. Display the local currency so local website visitors don’t have to convert. Use payment methods locals know and trust.
  • Make content easy to use. Wherever you’re marketing, there are common rules for getting your message across on web pages. Introduce your product with a clear, bold and short headline. Put your product benefits up high, give visitors clear paths to get more information and buy, and build trust by offering customer testimonials and quick ways to reach you. Colours can add a lot, but they can be culturally sensitive. We might drape a bride in white, while the Chinese use it on the dead. Dates should be in an unambiguous format so there’s no confusion. 7/10/2022 is months away from 10/7/2022 but is it July or October?
  • Consider cultural differences of foreign countries. It’s important to conform with local customs. Some companies missed opportunities because they didn’t bridge cultural gaps between their home and target markets. You want users to have the same experience, but local approaches vary to gifts, gender relations, holidays, as well as the previously mentioned colours. For example, in many cultures giving a sharp object like a knife means ending the relationship.
  • Speak the local lingo. You should offer visitors a choice to remain on English pages or be redirected to content that matches their internet protocol address. For example, if it looks like they’re coming from Portugal or Brazil, it would offer them Portuguese content. Develop that content with local translators in your target domestic market who understand the local lingo and how it will play with what you’re trying to say and your slogans. One way is to tap local journalists. They usually write well and follow the news to know what’s going on. Ensure the translations cover all your products, information, offers and purchase routes.

7. Consider international marketplaces for different countries.

You might want to think about using a large portal such as Amazon’s Global Selling, which gives account holders opportunities to sell in many countries at once. Shopify has similar opportunities. Or you might find places where shoppers in your target local market congregate. For example, in South Africa that might be Gumtree, which is like Kijiji in Canada.

  • Prioritize mobile commerce for international markets. It’s mentioned above, but it needs to be stressed. Shopping by mobile phone, or mcommerce, is expected to make up more than half of global ecommerce sales in 2021.4 Depending on your product or service, mobile phones are likely where customers will first see you in most new markets, especially in Asia and Africa, where laptops and home computers are rarer.
  • Keep it simple. Since smartphone penetration in many emerging markets also lags the West, your site must be simple enough to load quickly on 3G devices. Compress images, remove clutter and reduce links to increase site speed. Ensure text flows properly on all screen sizes.
  • Include mobile payment options. Incorporate mobile payment services such as Google Pay, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay and PayPal on your checkout pages to make purchasing easier.
  • Consider developing an app. A dedicated button for your business on customer phones increases your presence and potential sales. Keep it up to date with inventory and mobile payment options, but make sure it keeps customers happy with speedy loading.
  • Monitor SMS marketing. Text messages can be a way to personalize your marketing, but they also require prompt responses to customer queries.
  • Analyze statistics. Keep track of add-to-cart rates, the percentage of visitors who add items to their online shopping carts. Compare it to conversion rates, the percentage of customers who purchase items. Use analysis tools to discover and remove any blockages in your customer journey funnel from expressing interest to checkout.

8. Expand your marketing strategy to local social media.

Foreign markets have their own versions of social media that are popular in Canada, and new social media apps are rising up all the time. Try to align your choice of social media with your business’ demographic target. It may include Facebook, but not Snapchat, or vice versa. Other leading social media sites are Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitch. Here’s a descriptive list of 103 social media sites.

9. Collaborate with a local influencer to expand your customer base.

Boost your business’ profile by engaging a notable local person, such as a celebrity or sports star. They can promote your business as a brand ambassador, content creator or sponsor. Ensure they and their audience align with your business and its values. Beware of brand safety because it’s difficult to control an influencer without losing authenticity. Be clear up front about what you expect to accomplish in sales, website views or other metrics. Trust them to do the job and work out compensation beforehand.

10. Collaborate with your existing distributors and other business owners.

Build on your ties with existing suppliers and distributors to create networks for cutting costs and increasing sales. Investigate local suppliers and distributors in your new and targeted foreign markets to further reduce expenses and raise sales. Develop promotions with distributors that may use social media or influencers to increase website traffic and conversion rates. Look for synergies with other businesses in your market. Join business owners in networking groups in your new local market.

11. Analyze sales and other metrics.

Use geographic website analytics to determine how to get more of the people just browsing your website to purchase or otherwise convert. Also check Google Analytics and other monitoring tools, such as Hootsuite, Little Bird, Tweet Deck, Klout, Keyhole, Followerwonk, Buzzsumo, Iconsquare and Simply Measured. Make improvements.

Still have questions about expanding your company across borders? Get your answers with Top 8 Things to Consider for Global Expansion.