How to run an international business from home

Modern technology has made the world so closely interconnected that now almost anyone can start an international business at the touch of a button. But running an international business from home will take more than simply having access to the internet. Deciding to open your business up to foreign markets isn’t as simple as transplanting your current business model abroad; a different country is a different context. Yet it isn’t as daunting as it may seem, especially if you follow these three pieces of advice.

Localise your business for each location 

Firstly, you have to think about language. Modern translation can be done with the touch of a button. But that doesn’t mean it should be. Programs like Google Translate might be okay for quickly deciphering an unfamiliar phrase or understanding a foreign restaurant menu, but they are hardly reliable enough to be used by a business, as the Financial Times makes clear.

Instead, you should rely on professional translators who know your new destination well. Among London Translations’ three tips for translating your website is to “localise your website’s content.” Localisation differs from translation in that it involves using a language in the way locals actually speak it, a process which is best achieved by translators who are natives of a country.

At best, poor localisation can be difficult for customers to understand, and embarrassingly inaccurate at worst. Food giants Kraft created a new international brand called “Mondelez” in 2012; almost instantly, it emerged that the word was uncomfortably similar to a vulgar Russian slang term. To customers in Russia (and everywhere else), this showed that Kraft did not carry out enough research, or put in enough effort to understand customers in that country.

Localisation is about more than just language. As Endpoint points out, many companies modify their business models to the customs of different territories. The majority of people in India don’t eat beef, so McDonald’s restaurants there offer instead a Chicken Maharaja-Mac and a variety of vegetarian options.

Localisation for translation and products will take a lot of time and market research, but it will be worth it. Without localisation, you risk turning your company into an international joke.

Obey the laws of international trade, and of each country you trade in 

Putting in the work to localise your business will help you cover the customer side of things, but that still leaves the legal side. Though trading internationally may be easier than ever in practical terms, thanks to the Internet, there are still complex legal requirements to understand and abide by.

Linkilaw breaks these laws down into several different sections. These include company laws, employment laws, tax laws, legal systems and investment treaties. Already that sounds like a lot, but that’s the kind of legal landscape international businesses have to deal with.

You will need to officially register as a business in the countries you are expanding into. This differs from country to country, but normally involves registration with a government body of some kind. Even though you are planning to run your business from home, you will still need to be registered to operate in the countries where you do business. If you plan to employ staff to oversee overseas operations, you will have to make sure you obey the employment law of the country they are working in.

The tax systems of different countries can also vary, so make sure you consult an official government source to find out how much you should pay. If you fail to do this, you could be fined, or your business could be shut down.

It may also be worth looking into the investment treaties between certain countries, as these can sometimes grant you benefits. Check the United Nations’ Investment Policy Hub to see if any of them affect you.

Make realistic plans for your expansion 

If this article hasn’t made it clear already, running an international business from home won’t necessarily be easy, so the most important thing is to take it step by step. Many businesses are spending longer and longer on their international expansion plans, with some startups planning to be global from the ground-up.

You could try approaching international markets one country or time zone at a time, to make international expansion more manageable. Whatever you do, try not to bite off more than you can chew. Never sacrifice your business at home to grow your business abroad, and take your time over everything. Global expansion may happen quicker than ever in this age, but there really is no rush.

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