Doing business today requires entrepreneurs to learn quickly and adapt, especially in areas where they lack experience. Rather than retreating, leaders meet new challenges head on with the perseverance, optimism and especially resourcefulness needed to overcome their lack of experience. Like any new obstacle in business, getting started and growing in international markets can be intimidating, but the opportunity is significant and there are many resources available to help.
In a recent survey of small and mid-sized companies who sell internationally, nearly half (45%) said they learn about international markets by networking – the top option among the more than 500 companies surveyed – revealing the potential for peer and network connections as important sources of global sales advice and inspiration. Your friends and professional acquaintances may have experience overcoming challenges like yours, and you’ll be surprised how willing they are to help if you ask. Developing a mentor-mentee relationship can be a lasting asset for your business and professional development, so tap into your current network to find a mentor, or get further involved in industry networks with the intention of meeting a mentor with international experience.
Lessons Learned and Experienced Insights
A mentor can offer expertise and encouragement as we encounter new situations and grow as leaders. For companies just getting started exploring international growth, mentors can help with the early questions around how to get paid, managing compliance and logistics, foreign laws and regulations and more. A mentor from a company who already ships products internationally and accepts payments from foreign buyers will often have researched and experimented with various options. They will certainly have learned valuable, practical lessons along the way, and those lessons can save you time and money as you grow your global sales.
Next Steps and New Markets
If your company has sold and fulfilled some early international deals, you will likely start considering how to proactively grow the global segment of your business. That raises new questions like which markets to target, whether to use sales channel, how many markets to pursue simultaneously, and more. While networking is the top way to gather market intelligence, additional mentor and network resources can help with these questions: 43% of companies selling internationally said that employees and distributors could be sources of information about markets, and 39% turned to trade and business associations.
In addition to your existing industry networks, many communities have networking groups built around global business themes, which can put you in contact with potential mentors. These groups are often organized and facilitated by the U.S. Export Assistance Centers from the U.S. Commercial Service, District Export Councils (DECs) and state trade promotion authorities. Each of these groups helps to connect companies at all phases of global expansion and growth. Exporters can receive encouragement and answers to common early questions from experienced practitioners who often participate and share their valuable insights in specialized disciplines, including logistics, compliance, law, accounting, finance, insurance and more.
Digital Mentoring Opportunities
Technology creates networking and mentoring opportunities that complement in-person local options. Online options include virtual mastermind groups and forums for discussion and deep dives into specialized international sales topics. Webinars provide opportunities to learn from government agencies, like the International Trade Administration, and state trade authorities, as well as commercial groups that provide specialized products and services to support global growth. The online gatherings all help to connect business owners and leaders who have specific questions about global sales with experts and officials in those areas – as well as with other companies who are facing similar expansion challenges.
Recently, American Express Grow Global launched an online Meet the Mentors program as an extension of their popular mentoring roundtables hosted at live events. The digital program brings together small groups of business owners for intimate, candid conversations via video chat with industry leaders and government officials to cover topics across international selling, and government and corporate procurement. For businesses growing globally, the program plans to cover topics ranging from expanding beyond your first market, to finding experts to help you grow, to the benefits of global sales in recruiting and retaining a top-notch workforce and more. Additional information and registration details for upcoming Meet the Mentors sessions are available at amex.co/businessgrowth.
Compress Your Learning Curve
Selling internationally requires knowledge and competencies that often come from experience. While many companies develop this experience organically, going this route can increase the potential for expensive lessons learned the hard way – and slower growth. Turning to peers, associates and networking groups to find mentors can be an efficient way to gain valuable global sales knowledge and insights and to connect you with other business leaders who have walked a similar path.
You’ll find that mentors are often an inspiring source of support in addition to a resource for technical advice – a combination that can shorten your learning curve, help you avoid costly errors, and identify new international growth opportunities.