Best Small Business to Start: Going-Global Firms

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Going-Global Firms

Even though the value of the dollar and the trade deficit may fluctuate, globalization is here to stay. We all know about multinational corporations, but even an increasing number of small businesses are finding it possible to take their businesses abroad. A 2007 UPS survey found that a third of all small businesses are already involved in international trade, and the think tank Institute for the Future wrote in a February 2008 report that half will be involved by 2018.

But that number doesn't show the practical side of the matter: Who is going to make all these global deals happen? Naren Balasubramanian, a member of the board of advisers for Global Crosswalk Inc., is the first to tell you it's not easy. Too many players in trade are sending white males to offices to lead groups of Indians, he says, without knowing what they are getting into. That's where his company comes in. Global Crosswalk, owned by Radha Nath, a Canton, Mich.-based entrepreneur, helps employees of local corporations being sent abroad prepare for the cultural differences they will encounter. It also offers services to help employees of foreign companies sent to work in the area adjust to life in the States. "Being able to build bridges with different cultures brings me joy," Nath says.

The burgeoning field of global consulting also brings Renato Beninatto joy. "I have a goal of visiting three new countries a year," he says. Beninatto has been able to achieve that goal as "chief connector" for Common Sense Advisory Inc., the Boston-based global research firm he cofounded in 2002. Common Sense Advisory provides research about the global marketplace to foreign language translation service companies and works with other global companies on how they can better provide services to foreign countries. For example, a company might not know how to write a user guide for a product in a foreign country, or might lose global customers because it cannot offer the right payment option. Common Sense offers expertise on those kinds of issues. "Language is an enabler and a multiplier of business," says Beninatto.

What does it pay?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for executives in the management, scientific, and technical consulting industry in May 2007 was $182,790. What kind of background do you need?

Direct experience with international business is a prerequisite. Beninatto had been an entrepreneur in his native country of Brazil and had expanded that business to Argentina. What allowed him to generate clients right off the bat, he says, was that he and his partners already had a reputation as "thought leaders" in the area of globalization, specifically on issues of foreign languages. Knowledge about a specific area of international business and global trade can be used for public speaking or blogging, providing the perfect launching pad for a start-up. Nath says that her connections with the Detroit-area Asian-American community were one of the most helpful parts of her background. She used that network of friends as the starting place for her marketing strategy. Experience in human resources—Nath worked in that field for over a decade—can also help you find talented people to work as consultants with your customers. How do you get started?

Traditional start-up costs—like renting an office—aren't necessary in this line of work. "It lends itself to virtual offices," Nath says. She mainly works from her home, and when she needs to formally meet with clients or hired consultants, she has arrangements with the local chamber of commerce for office space. Being a member of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce has also been a great way to find businesses in the area that are in need of her services, she says. The main start-up cost, however, will be intellectual capital, as the quality of your service is only as good as the quality of your ideas. Beninatto's cofounder of Common Sense Advisory, Don De Palma, was an early researcher about globalization at Forrester Research. Beninatto says it was useful to divide the work so that his partner focuses on the research products and he handles the face-to-face meetings. They also have a separate executive run the business side of things to allow them to concentrate on their services. "When you're working, you're not selling. When you're selling, you're not working. We needed somebody above us," Beninatto explains.

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