No matter your gender, building a business depends on sound advice from the people who have been there. But the road to success can be especially hard for women entrepreneurs who want to grow their business internationally through exporting their products or services. For those who hope to take their business to an international level, market entry and business development remain a huge challenge.
So, we reached out to 9 different women in the international trade space, to share one piece of advice they have for women-owned and led businesses, that are focused on growing their business internationally.
Develop and use your network
Relationship and alliance building with female entrepreneurs living in other countries is an invaluable source of information and support. Understanding time zones, language, culture, currency, competition and trade regulations are key to success. I strongly recommend that female entrepreneurs looking to grow their business Internationally use the resources of the EDC, BWIT and WEOC.
ASK FOR HELP! There are lots of organizations both public and private who recognize that growth can come from exporting. They can help you avoid common and costly mistakes. Even better, some are specifically focussed on women entrepreneurs.
Build your network, be strategic, but most importantly think “why not”. You learn quickly that enhancing trust and credibility happens when you go in confident in your skills and with a focus on building solid relationships.
Focus on your exporting plan
Understand how international expansion fits into your overall strategic plan and goals. With your strategy as your “north star”, take a careful look at what resources you have in place and what you will need to grow your business internationally.
Don’t shy away from being bold! Consider your business’ medium to long term growth potential, including going international, and design your financing plan accordingly.
Do you have a unique and innovative value proposition? You might want to explore selling your product or services in a foreign market. Don’t let the size of your company discourage you from developing an export plan in your overall business strategy. You would be surprised to see how Canadian Women owned SMEs can be successful in export businesses. It might feel scary at the beginning but it is worth the journey.
Understand the market
Pick a market to take a smart risk on. Talk to a market specialist who can tell you about customs, culture and recommend contacts. For example, the Trade Commission Service (TCS) has advisors in 160 offices. Exporters can also get a grant for an international business development trip from CanExport, or look at a Business Women in Trade (BWIT) Mission. Not certain you are ready to take that risk? Ask your local chamber of commerce to match you with a mentor who has experience in that market.
When looking to expand to any new market, particularly in the international arena, it’s important to understand the market you’re planning to enter. And don’t get caught in the trap of thinking it’s like other markets you’ve been in. Treat it as a unique market with its own needs and trends.
Use storytelling to share your message
Stories are not limited by borders. Your story and brand is your biggest asset. Don't be afraid to tell your story because someone is always interested in listening.