This is a guest post by the staff of Lingo24.
Times are tough for start-ups. Banks don’t want to lend big, venture capitalists are holding onto their money and entrepreneurs with great start-up ideas are having a tough time finding the funds they need to get started.
The thing is, though, doing business in the age of omnipresent internet access means you no longer need anywhere near the same amount of start-up capital. There are numerous ways you can get established as an international business at minimal cost by simply using the global connectivity of the web. Here are five of those ways.
Working from home
Offices are expensive. You have to pay rent, utilities, insurance, and so forth – money that simply goes down the drain during your early months, before you start to turn a profit. You likely already rent or own a home, though, so why not work from your spare bedroom? With a well-designed website your company will be as reputable as if you had a walk-in office on the high street.
For instance, take the example of Australian record label Future Classic, which conducts the majority of its business via its very slick website, with the majority of its sales being made in Europe, especially Germany, even though they have no physical office space in Europe and work solely from a home office in Sydney.
Get other people working from home
When you start making enough money to employ other people, you’ll want to employ the best people for the job, not just those who live within commuting range of your potential office site. Hiring people around the world to work from home has numerous benefits – lower costs all round, flexible working hours, flexible pay structures (by project rather than by the hour, as well as lower base wages in some countries).
More important, though, is the potential to cover multiple time zones and offer a 24-hour service. With staff members working from home in every time zone you can have your phones and email manned 24 hours a day, ready to deal with customer requests at any time – an essential part of the global takeover strategy that we’ll delve into later.
Use the web for your communications
But, you may ask yourself, if I have people working from home all around the world, how will we communicate without spending a fortune on phone bills? This is where web communication tools like Skype and social media come into their own. Skype’s instant messaging and phone call service are a free, easy and instant way to stay in contact with your work force, where ever they are in the world.
Then there’s social media networks designed for work, like Yammer and LinkedIn, that help to foster a feeling of community amongst staff, as well as an easy way of fielding questions to the entire workforce via status updates.
Google Docs is another boon for your work force diaspora, as it allows multiple people to work on and edit the one document simultaneously, eliminating the time spent sending documents back and forth. There are dozens of other handy apps out there to aid international collaboration through the internet.
Market yourself online
Perhaps the most cost-effective element of conducting business via the internet is the savings you can make in marketing. Think of the amount of money you need to advertise your services through traditional media, such as print, TV and radio. Then compare that to the nominal budgets you can set for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to get you straight to the top of the search rankings. PPC allows you to set a nominal budget (say, $20 a month) and review your results monthly to see which keywords are bringing the most click-through traffic and which deserve more budget.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the organic way to make sure your website appears in the Google rankings, and while SEO strategies are constantly evolving, it’s easy enough to teach yourself using the many information resources online. There are three essential elements for ranking highly in Google right now, which are: the right keywords, good back-links and original content.
You need to make sure you’re using the right keywords for your market – you can research how often keywords are being used in searches with tools like Google Keywords, to make sure you’re using a good mix of popular ‘short tail’ and more specific ‘long tail’ keywords.
You also want to have as many reputable websites as possible linking to your site, to prove your relevance in internet-land – this can be achieved by link-swapping, or contributing guest content to websites in your industry.
Finally, making sure your own site is constantly updated with fresh, original content that’s useful to the visitor will help to ensure you get your deserved place in the page rankings.
Then there’s social media, which allows you to engage directly with your customers and communicate news and information to them directly via tweets and status updates, which can be handily consolidated using apps like Ping and HootSuite that allow you to post an update once and have it appear across all of your social media profiles.
The whole point of building up your international staff network and web presence is to then be able to expand into foreign markets. When you have an online business you’re global by definition – anyone can access your site and buy from you, and that’s a potential audience of 1.8bn consumers. However, the catch is that 85% of online consumers will only buy from a site on which they can read about the product in their own native language (Common Sense Advisory).
That’s why localization is key – you need to identify which foreign markets have a gap for your product or services, and then build sites that are specifically-designed for those markets, with web design angled towards each culture’s aesthetic preferences and copy written and translated by in-country professionals.
Localization has proven return on investment – the Localization Industry Standards Association found that each dollar spent on localisation yields a $25 return, and when your localization strategy is employed via the internet, your only costs are for translation, web design, online marketing and employing home-based staff in your target countries – far cheaper than getting established on the ground by building physical outlets in each country.
By keeping your costs down in the early years through working from home, communicating using web based technology, and marketing your business on the internet, any business can grow from a bedroom start-up to a major international player.
Global translation and localization company Lingo24 was launched in 2001 and now employs some 4,000 professional freelance translators covering a hundred different language combinations. Follow Lingo24 founder Christian on Twitter: @Lingo24chr.