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Internationa Business

In: Social Issues

Submitted By jloool
Words 974
Pages 4
Some businesses think around the block. Some set their sights a bit further.

At some point, it's possible that you've considered an overseas business. Perhaps you've been pondering relocating temporarily outside the United States (a la the proverbial Army brat), opening an overseas branch or subsidiary, or simply wondering about the mechanics of selling a product halfway around the world.

It's no shocker: Business in one nation can be worlds apart from its next-door neighbor.

The formula becomes all the more muddy depending on logistics. Are you going to actually be in the country or staying stateside? Still, there are a number of salient issues that apply to all overseas ventures, no matter the country or the business.

Here are six to get you started on the right foot.

1. Start with the U.S. Department of Commerce. This should be stop No. 1, regardless of whether you're packing your suitcase or staying put. The department can provide a wealth of information, covering such topics as overseas agents and tax ramifications. Even better, it's gratis.

2. Spend some time determining just how "different" things will really be. One assumption that many domestic businesses are too quick to make about entry into international markets is that they're drastically different from the U.S. — that laws, commercial customs and the like are, by definition, exotic and bewildering. That certainly may be case in some places — laws and practices of certain countries in Latin America, for example, have been described as such. But there are many other countries where the basic nuts and bolts of business isn't that far removed.That was what Bulent Bicer learned when he and his wife established EuroMarket Partners in Germany in 2003. In fact, the company's central mission — to assist American companies with sales throughout Germany — is indicative of those very sorts of similarities. "The biggest obstacle is the perception that the German market is a 'foreign' market," Bicer says. "It's really not much different from doing business in a different state. But you have to know what you're doing or you're going to waste a lot of time and money."

3. Seek out local guidance. Bicer's experience doesn't mean that every overseas market is, in essence, a mirror image of the United States. Anything but. That makes hooking up with competent advisers, locally based, absolutely critical. Whether it's an attorney or a banker, make certain that they're located in the market where you want to set up shop. For instance, law firms with international contacts will likely be able to refer you to an attorney situated where you hope to do business; check, too, with any sort of local bar association."Try asking people who've already done business there if they can suggest someone," says Burton Landy, chairman emeritus of the international practice group at Akerman Senterfitt, a Miami law firm. "It's critical to obtain good, local legal advice. You're not only dealing with a different legal system, you may be dealing with a different language and culture as well."

4. Research the particulars of the market — and the market for your product. A potential land mine for Americans looking to do business overseas is the mistaken assumption of novelty — that a product or service, by virtue of being "American," is somehow unique enough to sell itself no matter where or how.That's a potentially fatal mindset. For one thing, unless you're looking to hawk cell phones in a country that barely has wire-based communications, it's dicey that anything is going to prove that singularly novel.On top of that, it bypasses this basic precept of starting someplace new, no matter the exact spot: You need to investigate your market exhaustively to determine whether, in fact, you've got something someone there will take an interest in. "It's imperative to understand the market conditions such as overall potential, competition and marketing channels," Bicer says. "It's no different than what any entrepreneur would do before going into business in the United States."

5. Protect yourself and your intellectual property. It goes without saying that your physical security is at greater risk in a foreign country than at home. But don't overlook other forms of protection that are almost equally as critical. If, for instance, your operation is centered on a genuinely unique product or even a recognizable logo, be sure to investigate necessary trademark protection in any country you're considering.Not surprisingly, the issue of intellectual property is substantially different from one country to the next, so make certain you line up any necessary patents and trademarks proactively — one by one, if need be. "It's simply important to know the rules where you'll be working," Landy says. "And that means protecting yourself well ahead of time."

6. Arbitrate, don't litigate. One final tip may seem idiosyncratic but, in fact, could save you piles of both cash and time. No matter if you're selling a product overseas in abstentia or starting a new business by moving to a foreign country, make certain that any contracts you draw up contain a locally enforceable arbitration clause to settle any dispute that may crop up.It's an ace in the hole on several levels. First, consider the logistics. Settling a problem via arbitration doesn't necessarily mandate a lengthy trip. (A case heard in court, however, may well require just that.) Tack on the issue of cost — not merely for expenses paid for any sort of legal representation, but also for being in those parts of the world where a greased palm is the most efficient means of obtaining fair and speedy jurisprudence. That's not only cost-effective but considerably less messy for all concerned."Arbitration is the best way of avoiding getting bogged down in any local court system," Landy says. "It's less expensive, quicker and, just as important, keeps the dispute private."

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