With almost 3 billion users and tens of millions of businesses online, the internet offers a unique opportunity for companies to reach their potential customers more easily than ever before.
Exporting, or globally expanding using the internet, can be profitable for businesses of all sizes including SMEs. On average, sales grow faster, more jobs are created, and employees earn more than in non-exporting firms.
Exports are playing a key role in Ireland's continued recovery. Every day we see Irish businesses using Google not just as a search engine, but as a growth engine powering their businesses to sell overseas. Whether they use our tools to find new markets, advertise to new customers or communicate in multiple languages, these businesses are finding great opportunities in digitally-led exports.
Here is some advice for companies who have an established presence online but who have yet to take the plunge to begin exporting:
l Firstly, find new target markets
Powerful marketing tools and free translation tools already exist online to help businesses attract, communicate with, and sell to audiences everywhere in the world.
For example, by using Google Global Market Finder, businesses can find audiences around the world who are likely to be interested in their products or services. It uses data from Internet searches around the world to show the number of times people search for keywords relevant to your business. It covers 56 languages and also provides cost and competitive estimates.
This information can help a business to review the estimated cost of acquiring a new customer and to determine whether targeting a particular market is a good investment. You'll find this if you search for Google Global Market Finder in your internet browser.
It's also worth checking out another free service, Google Trends at google.com/trends. This lets you see what people have been searching for, from anywhere in the world.
For example, if you want to find out if anyone in Germany searched over the last month for Irish dairy products, Google Trends gives you an instant snapshot of the interest in Irish dairy products.
l Secondly, connect locally
When you're exporting, in particular to non-English speaking markets, it's necessary for a business to adapt to local consumer needs.
To help with this, Google commissioned an online survey of consumers in 56 countries, with around 3,000 interviews in each country, to produce a consumer barometer. For your business, this means that whenever you want to dig into the data for a specific demographic/product in a target country, you will be able to consult good quality data which will help you make the right decision.
This data is freely available at www.consumerbarometer.com.
You can then use these insights to adapt your site, marketing materials, and advertisements to the local languages of its target markets.
This is recommended business practice, even in countries where a high percentage of the population speak English fluently - such as Germany, for example.
So, whether you're looking for a quick translation to test your site with different audiences or a more formal translation, free online tools such as Google's Website Translator can save you time and money. This tool will make your website instantly international. You can control which parts of your site are translated, adding a snippet of code to any sections you want to leave in their current language.
By tracking page views on your translated site, you can decide whether to invest in the complete localisation of your website. For example, if your site receives lots of Chinese or Spanish speakers, you may want to translate it into Chinese and Spanish.
l Thirdly, help potential customers to find your business online
By using online advertising your business can reach relevant audiences of scale. No matter what the advertising budget may be you can show ads when people search online.
Showing ads next to relevant search results means that a business is advertising to an audience that is already interested in their product or service.
The best part is that you're charged only if someone clicks on your ad, not when the ad is displayed, making it very cost-effective and measurable.
Every business should understand the effectiveness of their online campaigns and Google's free online analytics tools will provide a business with valuable insights about consumer interactions with their website.
The business owner will be able to understand where their visitors come from, what actions they take while they are on the site - what are the most popular pages visited or products searched and at what point in the sales cycle do they leave the website.
l Finally, internationalise your business
There are some logistical and legal requirements to operating in an international environment. Here is a quick checklist for your business.
Simplify your international sales with electronic payments. You should make sure that you can process transactions with the most common cards used globally -Visa or MasterCard. Payment options are an important element of online shopping so investigate the various online payment systems common to different countries.
Consider insuring international shipments, as they tend to have a higher risk of loss or damage; many postal services automatically provide some coverage. However, you may want to consider including insurance charges in your shipping costs or let customers buy insurance separately. Always be clear with your customers about the reasons for additional costs.
International postage costs and transit differ based on weight, size, and postage method. Include clear information on shipping costs and estimated arrival times for each market and list policies on international returns and associated costs.
Understand restrictions around import, packaging, and/or any additional fees in the countries you are operating and advertising in.
For example, any consumer product sold in the UAE must be labelled in Arabic, while Korea has instituted a ban on the use of PVC shrink wrap due to environmental concerns. Your shipping and logistics company can help you.
All packages have to pass through customs of the country you are dispatching to. Make sure you attach relevant customs forms on the outside of your package.
Taxes and duties
Duties and taxes may be charged on certain items and vary by country. Some countries charge VAT on top of applicable duties. Usually, buyers are responsible for knowing how much they'll be charged in taxes and duties, and bear the additional costs. However, you can help customers by mentioning relevant cost estimates in your listings. At Google, we are optimistic of the opportunities for growth in Europe and of the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that are supported by the Internet.
Our commitment to train one million Europeans in digital skills is just one more way we can help support more businesses to use the web.
Companies need to learn how to use these online tools to develop insights to understand the export opportunities and to navigate language, cultural and commercial differences in external markets. The potential rewards of doing so make good business sense and can help turn a good business into a stellar performing one.
David Sneddon is responsible for large customer sales in Germany and Eastern Europe, and responsible for Google's Export initiatives in EMEA
Sunday Indo Business