How Worldly is Your World Wide Web?

The growth in Internet usage around the world is astounding - 146% in the five years prior to March 2005. And it's not just European and North American users on the Net. The fastest growth was found in Africa with an almost 200% increase in usage. I am often pleasantly surprised as to how fast the internet connections are in 'developing countries' like Indonesia - much faster than the connection at my parent's farm in rural Alberta in fact!

But wait - don't rush off and start translating your web site into Mandarin or Setswana just yet. 'Internationalizing' a web site it does not necessarily mean translation, at least not initially.

Who is really your customer?

Just because you sell the greatest new gardening tool, it doesn't mean that you will sell directly to every green thumb gardener in the United Kingdom - you would use a sales agent or distributor, right? So it makes sense that you would use your web site to find a British business partner rather than direct customers. Use your web site to advertise as if you were hiring a new employee and list the experience and contacts your new partner must have. I recommend that you prepare a 'Partner Inquiry Questionnaire' that will weed out the truly interested from the rotten apples. If they take the time to fill it out, they are serious. If not, you haven't wasted your time.

If you have already identified a partner, use your web site to promote them. List their contact details - use a page titled 'International,' 'Distributors' or 'Global Locations' and link to their web site. If they don't have one, or it is very basic with little or no information you can provide a valuable service by linking to technical information on your site, or provide them with simple programming code that they can incorporate into their own site.

Not world wide - yet

If properly promoted, your web site will generate inquiries from all over the world. However, if your company is only shipping its widgets in North American right now, save everyone time and effort by clearly stating so right on your web page.

If you have plans to enter new markets in the near future, invite interested customers to be put on an e-mail notice list. It's an excellent way to gauge market interest - and think of how easy it will be to hit the ground running with this list of prospects, once you do enter the market.

Where the heck is Saskatchewan?

When that awesome new prospect visits your 'Contact' page, is it clear who you are and how they can reach you? Be sure that your contact information is understandable by anyone who reads it, regardless of where they are from.

- Don't use abbreviations like St. or AB. Spell out the entire word.

- Be sure to indicate which country you are located in. International customers may not realize that Saskatchewan is a province in Canada.

- If you have a toll-free number, indicate where it works (e.g. in North America only). For other numbers, be sure to include the country code.

- When listing your hours of operation, use the 24 hour clock and note the time zone (and if applicable, whether you observe daylight savings time), relative to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). For example, a business in Alberta could indicate that its hours of operation are:

Monday - Friday, 08:00 - 17:00

November - March: Mountain Standard Time (MST) = UTC-7

April - October: Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) = UTC-6

Keep it current

I hate visiting web sites with a 'What's New' section with an entry from 2001, the year the web site was launched, or worse - nothing is new! Be sure to announce your international activities - trade shows you will be attending, new markets launched, successes abroad...

Be wary of any listing any information that, while useful for your domestic customers, can create conflict for your foreign partner. For example, an on-line price list is useful in Canada but dangerous if you charge a different price for your export customers. The same principle applies to products that you may not be able to offer in all markets. Be clear and you should be able to avoid any conflicts.

We're not in Saskatchewan anymore

It's time for your web site to reflect your global aspirations, whether or not you are a world class company, or intend to be someday!

And if you are still intent on translating your site, consider that there are 291 million English language Internet users, 113 million Chinese and 67 million Japanese followed by Spanish (57 million), German (54 million and French (37 million).

Copyright© 2005.

Cheryl Lockhart of International Strategies Ltd. assists small- to medium-sized Canadian and foreign enterprises navigate the complexities of global business development. Services include international project identification and management, market research and analysis and foreign partner development.

To learn more about exporting and gain access to more FREE e-zines, visit her web site

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