Going Local

You can't do it all on your own, especially in a new country.

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Creating a presence in one or more international markets requires a team of local service providers. They are your point people who can facilitate global trade, whatever the business process—finance, HR, legal, vendor sourcing and so on. Identifying the right LSPs for your business isn't cheap or easy. But it is doable, especially if you follow these three proven guidelines:

Set your expectations correctly. That entails first identifying whether there's a possible fit between what you need your business to accomplish and the opportunities and obstacles in a specific marketplace. The standard ways of conducting business—everything from putting together contracts to ensuring production quality—may be too frustrating for you in certain countries. In that case, investigate other markets, and don't expect anything to be as straightforward as it is in the United States.

Once you've decided on a market you want to pursue, start looking for local representation. Folks at firms like Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and High Street Partners provide services that can help you connect with qualified locals in your country of choice.

Finally, tap into peer networks by joining trade associations, exhibiting at local trade fairs, and networking at conferences and seminars. You'll meet entrepreneurs who've already gone through this, so you won't have to reinvent the wheel.

Make use of free resources. You can find free help here at home and probably in the country in which you plan to do business. For instance, the U.S. Commercial Service offers counseling on setting up shop in any country and can likely point you toward LSPs.

In addition, says High Street Partners' founder and president Larry Harding, most nations now have trade promotion agencies that will introduce you to LSPs. And overseas governments often have inward investment initiatives that offer diverse kinds of help, including tax breaks, for foreign firms.

Get out your checkbook. Exceptions exist, but typically at the front end you need to invest a sizable amount of capital in using LSPs, and that capital must be patient. Making a return on your investment has to be approached as a long-term process. But once you go through the learning curve, expansion of that operation—and profitability—will happen more quickly and probably more smoothly.

By Laurel Delaney, who runs GlobeTrade.com and Laurel Delaney.com, Chicago-based firms that specialize in international entrepreneurship. She can be reached at ldelaney@globetrade.com.

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