In this age of globalization, it’s easy for large corporate businesses with deep pockets to expand their reach around the world and create a presence in every major city. But what about small to midsize businesses? In 2015, having a strong international presence will be a necessity for success and expansion. Many businesses — for example, real estate brokerages, law firms, and those in the tourism and hospitality realms — want their messages to reach consumers all over the world. But how can a small or midsize company begin competing across cultures? The same way you eat an elephant. One bite at a time. The best way to accomplish something large is to tackle it one step at a time.
It starts with collaboration. In recent years, as shared offices have opened around the country, the term “collaboration” has become a buzzword. In shared office spaces, businesses come together in one locale for cost benefit purposes as well as the creation of synergy. This is a brilliant concept for not only the exchange of ideas, but also for strength in numbers, one that can be applied globally for small to midsize businesses.
Miami as a global city: As a native, I have seen Miami emerge as an elite global city firsthand. Our 25-year-old public relations and marketing firm recognized that we could no longer count on doing business in the U.S. and Latin America alone. Borrowing from the shared office collaboration concept, we traveled around the world to form a global network of public relations companies. Today, WorldWise PR Affiliates has partners in Buenos Aires, Delhi, Dubai, Hong Kong, Jakarta, London, Mainland China, Mexico City, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Paris, São Paulo, Singapore, and Toronto, and we have established personal relationships with each and every one of them. At a recent meeting in Hong Kong, we met the co-founder of Keurig, Dick Sweeney, who made a lasting impression on us when he said, “Business is a contact sport.”
To form an international network, you have to have skin in the game. You must spend time researching, traveling, interviewing companies, and getting to know people to ensure that their business culture and vision mirrors yours.
An emphasis on trust: Three key elements in establishing a strategic alliance is trust, great reputations and confidence. Trust needs to be both received and given, great relationships and examples of strong character are needed among partners, and confidence is necessary. These strategic affiliations can only be effective by forging strong relationships and then taking the time to maintain them. It helps if you have had existing contacts around the world who can give you referrals. We also discovered a “spider effect.” Through word of mouth we were able to enter new markets because our affiliates had existing relationships with other global partners. As a result, our web grew.
Technology tools: Once a relationship is established, it is a lot harder to work across the world from each other as opposed to working across the hallway. But that gap can be bridged by taking advantage of technological innovations. There are many apps and programs that make the world just a little bit smaller. Options include screen sharing and video meetings (Join.me and Zoom), translation programs, travel apps, document sharing (Google Docs), international calling (Viber, Skype and WhatsApp), time zone apps, global calendars (Teamup), and many others that cater to a variety of needs. All of these are offered at a minimal cost, if any, which only adds to ease and boosts the bottom line. Utilizing social media also provides an easy and inexpensive way to collaborate and stay connected, and results in the added benefit of an expanded online presence with international exposure.
Sensitivity: There is also a need to be accommodating and sensitive to cultural customs. Without an awareness for local traditions, one can end up in an embarrassing situation. Take for instance the recent faux pas by LeBron James when he posed for a picture with Kate Middleton and draped his arm around her shoulder — an action violating British cultural protocol. A simple gesture can lead to an uncomfortable mishap. Without spending hours of time researching each culture to get the full lay of the land, consultants specializing in culture coaching can be hired to give their expertise and guidance. And with each culture, it must be kept in mind that some of their traditions may be a perfect opportunity for your business or clients. While in Hong Kong, we learned about “Singles Day” on Nov. 11, and were delighted when our Dubai affiliates wished us a “Happy Thanksgiving.” In a bind, a quick Internet search for cultural tips will return plenty of results. After all, conducting business on a global scale is becoming essential.
There is no doubt Miami is a global destination and a world-class city, but in today’s marketplace, we need to keep our eyes planted further afield than our own blue horizon. I expect globalization will increasingly play an important role in the growth of small to midsize businesses. Being a global gladiator may take a great deal of work, but great feats are possible and obstacles can be conquered — even eating an elephant.
Sissy DeMaria is president of Kreps DeMaria Public Relations & Advertising and founder of WorldWise PR Affiliates. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org