expand_marketsDid you know that only a tiny percentage – less than 1% – of U.S. small businesses (under 500 employees) export their products. The reason – or at least a reason? According to the National Small Business Association (NSBA) and the Small Business Exporters Association (SBEA), almost half of all small businesses that export report that they spent several months and an average 8.4 percent of their annual operating revenue on preparing to export their goods or services.

In today’s economy, choosing to surrender 8.4 percent of your annual operating revenue is a tough decision. And yet, the expense seems unavoidable. Think of all your company is supposed to do to prepare to export: there are legalities and payroll and financing and restrictions to consider. These are all valid concerns – questions that can be difficult to answer when you don’t speak the language and don’t know whom to ask. In fact, nearly half of businesses that don’t export, say they don’t because they “don’t know where to start.”

And yet, whatever the reason, the decision to forgo exports is a decision to forfeit revenue. An incredible 95 percent of all consumers and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power resides outside the United States. That’s a huge market, just waiting to be tapped.

So here’s the big secret: expanding into international markets doesn’t have to be a confusing or revenue-crushing venture. If you’ve been considering breaking out of your local market to offer your product or service in a new city, state, region or country, a multilingual, business-grade virtual assistant is a cost-effective way to test new markets.

The New Breed of World-Savvy, Business-Grade Virtual Assistants

Right now, you’re probably wondering what a virtual assistant has to do with business abroad. Am I right? Well, let’s start by dispelling the myth that VAs are only good for lightweight admin work, like calendar management. While some virtual assistants can certainly do duty as your executive assistant, the skill set of others extend to expert services, like ecommerce management, customer service, and business relationship development. And a competent virtual assistant company will custom match your company’s needs and personality to your virtual assistant’s specialized talents and skill set.

Here are a few ways your VA can help you expand into international markets – and help you avoid costly mistakes as you test the waters of doing business abroad:

Find Out Where to Start

Several associations and government programs exist to aid U.S. small business owners expand internationally. Your virtual assistant can serve as a research powerhouse and your liaison with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the National Small Business Association (NSBA), the Small Business Exporters Association (SBEA), and similar organizations. Your virtual assistant can ask all the right questions, collect pertinent information, and research loans and other government programs, like those of the International Trade Administration (ITA), to fuel your expansion efforts.

Straddle the Language Barrier

One of the hardest parts of doing business abroad is the language barrier; high-school French or German won’t help you expand into Europe. Enter your bilingual or multilingual virtual assistant, who not only speaks mother-tongue German but is based in Germany and can be you representative ‘in country’.

Manage Cultural Differences

Business abroad is fraught not only with language barriers, but with confusing cultural differences, unfamiliar traditions, and customs you may not understand. Even in other English-language countries like the UK, if you employ the same approach you do in the US, you may alienate potential customers. Choose a business-grade virtual assistant who is not only multilingual but is locally based, and your business will ensure that relationships with your customers and suppliers get off on the right foot.

Begin Researching & Networking

When you expand into new markets, be they new cities or new countries, you’re faced with the daunting prospect of forming new business relationships. Whether you need to find new suppliers, new employees, or simply new business associates, your virtual assistant can help. She’ll research the market, collate information, send emails and perform other basic networking tasks, so your company has firm footing in the market before you even open your doors, physical or virtual.

Mitigate Time Differences

It’s easy to gloss over the challenge of different time zones… That is, until you set the alarm for your first 2:30 a.m. video conference! Because your virtual assistant is based locally they will be able to maximize efforts. And for a US company with an assistant in Europe, because they are 5-6 hours ahead you’ll enjoy the benefit of requesting information as you leave the office in the evening, and having it ready for you the next morning.

Fluent Customer Service

Once you make the leap into new markets, you’re faced with a whole new challenge: customers and clients who don’t speak English. A multilingual virtual assistant with customer service expertise is the perfect solution to handling client inquiries, shipping issues, and other customer service matters.

Boldly is the world’s leading multilingual Virtual Assistant Company, with highly skilled assistants in both North America, and Europe ready to help you bridge the gap between countries and continents.