Thinking globally Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

The world is shrinking. Is your business growing to keep up? In an increasingly global market, education is becoming the business owner’s first line of defense against — literally — a world of competition.

“Change doesn’t happen unless you really accept it and have a buy-in by key decision makers that the international market does play a role in our future,” says Sheb True, director of the International Centre in Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.

Smart Business spoke to True about some of the changes required of American businesses looking to expand their markets overseas.

Can a mid-sized company compete in a global market?

It’s become easier and more affordable to find more markets around the world. It doesn’t mean that changes won’t be required, but you can find a similar want or need in a market that has demographics that match your target profile. For mid-sized players to play in a bigger space or to compete in a global world, they can also find partners.

More and more companies around the world are going to try to come from other countries into our market, as well as gain strength elsewhere, so eventually you’re going to have to look to external markets.

Growth is the top priority of most companies — it’s just a natural part of being in business. But even if it’s not your particular goal, that growth will find you when other companies start to creep toward your market. Consumers are being served much more by companies that are more global, so if you’re just focusing on a local market, you could lose your target market to companies that are going international.

What kinds of changes will a company face?

First I think it requires an attitude shift. If you go into a new market thinking you’re not going to change anything, that’s the biggest mistake you can make — the next mistake is thinking you have to change everything.

Education is the next step. That doesn’t necessarily mean a formal education, in terms of getting an international business degree or taking courses. It’s really just about learning about the process. In the end, business is business, but there are logistics and processes there, and there’s education required for understanding different cultures that you’re going to deal with and how business is conducted in that environment. That doesn’t mean just exchanging business cards, but also understanding how consumers and employees think in other markets.

It doesn’t mean there’s a 100 percent change required, but you have to apply a global marketing concept. You need to look for similarities in consumers and in how business is conducted. Stick with what’s worked. Then identify those key things that are different and that require a different approach or a different mind set and change or adapt to those as necessary.

How can business owners gain insight into international markets?

Basic reading is important, as well as just starting to become more aware. Reading about your industry in a different market — from publications like The Economist to The Wall Street Journal international editions to trade publications that are focused on your industry in another environment.

Get involved with the U.S. Department of Commerce for trade and the American Chamber of Commerce. They put on seminars and have educational materials. Most nations are promoting trade in their countries, so they often provide literature.

Universities are important resources for their faculties and international centers of excellence, as well as the partnerships they develop with organizations around the world. There are also a number of organizations in Atlanta that provide people a means of interacting in that international space here in the U.S. Simply get involved with and network with those organizations that are there to promote and facilitate international commerce. Obviously the next step is to get involved with your target countries.

Finally, there are consulting companies that can help facilitate the process. Because, in terms of logistics, a lot of the process is outsourced as a mid-sized company. You’re getting import-export consultants or companies to help with certain needs. Really what mid-sized companies need to worry about is their strategy and the buy-in.

What industries do you see as really integrating into the global mindset?

They’re all getting there. Accounting is a great example. It has always been something that is very unique from country to country and the rules are significantly different in every market, but the big accounting players are very global. There is this relatively new development in the accounting world called XBRL. It is basically paving the way toward a global template of financial reporting. College students are beginning to train for this. With companies thinking more globally, your financial documentation should support a global perspective as the integration of all the functions of business come together in a global environment.

SHEB TRUE is the director of the International Centre at Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Reach him at strue@kennesaw.edu or (770) 423-6076.