Taking a company from a national to an international player is no easy task. After all, building a successful business in a country where you speak the language and know the customs takes a lot of hard work and success isn’t a guarantee. Now imagine how much more difficult that would be in a locality in which everything is foreign. If you are looking to globalize, you need a solid approach plan. Take a look at these three globalization steps that you can take to make the transition to international that much easier for you.

1. Get a Local Phone Number

Unlike impersonal international numbers or toll-free numbers — which people tend to associate with giant, faceless corporate behemoths — local numbers provide customers with a level of intimacy and familiarity that makes hesitant callers more likely to dial. When someone shares an area code with a business, they are given the impression that they’re supporting a business at the community level that operates where they live. If your business is local, resist the urge to get one overriding toll-free number and bring your telephone network down to the most intimate level.

International Telephone Numbering Plans

Every country or region has its own specific telephone numbering plan, which subscribes numerical schemes and protocols (this is a fancy way of saying phone numbers) to subscribers on both the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and private networks. The PSTN manages administrative regions around the world, and each region adheres to its own telephone numbering plan. Many numbering plans — like those familiar to residents of the United States — further divide their region into sub-regions through the use of area codes.

Example: Local Numbers in the U.K.

So in order to procure a local phone number in a specific country or region, you would first have to understand the workings of how phone numbers work in that country or region. Let’s say you operate a business in the United States, but you want a local number in the U.K., where many of your customers are located, or where you plan to expand your operations. You would first need to reference the U.K.’s National Telephone Numbering Plan and see where you fit in depending on the locality where you want your number to be based, or — in some cases — the service you provide or the product you sell.

Regional Variations

Just as toll-free numbers have minor variations in the U.K. as opposed to in the U.S. (1-800 in the U.S. vs. 0-800 in the U.K.), local numbers will not only be structured differently than they would in the U.S., but they will have a different setup depending on where in the U.K. you do business. For example, the following locations will have the following layouts:

  • London: (020) xxxx xxxx
  • Liverpool : (0151) xxx-xxxx
  • Cambridge: (01223) xxxxxx
  • Oxford: (01865) xxxxxxx
  • Leeds: (0113) xxx-xxxx

Virtual Numbers

There are several ways to obtain and activate a local number after you’ve analyzed the country’s international telephone numbering plan and figured out how it plays out in your specific region. The most common and probably the easiest would be to obtain a virtual number. Virtual numbers are phone numbers that aren’t associated with any specific phone line but instead are linked to a call-forwarding service that routes incoming calls to any number or series of numbers chosen by the subscriber.

A resident of Liverpool rings a local number that he or she saw in a local newspaper ad, and — without the caller’s knowledge — the call is routed to the phone line of a business owner in Toledo, Ohio (or anywhere in the world). The customer gets to dial a local number, but the business owner doesn’t have to establish a physical presence in the country where he or she placed the call.

To set up a virtual number:

  • Sign up with a provider, such as TollFreeForwarding.
  • Chose the number you want from their online database of available numbers.
  • Establish the line or lines where incoming calls will be routed.
  • Apply the appropriate features and customizations, including:
    Sequential dialing: Rings predetermined numbers in a set order. If the primary line is busy, it goes to the second line, the third, and so forth.
    Simultaneous dialing: Rings several lines at the same time until the call is answered by any of them.
    Time-of-Day Routing: Directs calls on a set schedule depending on when the call is placed. This is especially important when time zone variations are involved.

Unless you’re a sophisticated world traveler, foreign phone numbers look, well, foreign — and they should. The point is, your clients or customers abroad will see them as a familiar, local number that they’re comfortable with and used to — and that won’t cost them exorbitant international dialing fees. Even giant global corporations know that all business is essentially handled at the local level — and their phone networks reflect that fact.


2. Get a Local Address

Setting up an international phone number with a call-forwarding system is a good start toward establishing yourself as a global business — without actually having a physical presence in your market country. But no matter how far technology pushes us toward becoming a fully digitally society, businesses still need to receive physical mail at an actual address. Establishing a mailing address in a foreign country without actually owning or leasing a building there poses a bigger challenge than getting a phone number. But you do have several options.

Virtual Offices and Mail Drop

One way to establish a mailing address without actually occupying a building at a physical location is to enlist the services of a virtual office. Virtual global offices allow your office to be wherever you are. Aside from computer access, voicemail, live answering, fax, and phone services, many virtual office companies also provide customers with mail-drop services.

With mail drop, virtual office providers use the physical address of a partner facility — the more prestigious the address, the better (if your address were in the U.S., for example, Park Avenue in New York City would suffice). On your business cards, on your stationery, and in your ads, you list that address as your business’s mailing address. When mail for you arrives, your virtual office provider will forward it to you. Many virtual office providers issue international mail-drop services with six-month or one-year contracts.


Commercial mail receiving agents, or CMRAs, will also rent the use of an established building’s address and infrastructure to businesses and individuals who want an address overseas without actually owning or leasing a building there. Like maildrop, the goal of a CMRA is not only to have an address but as prestigious an address as possible.

But there are other benefits to CMRAs. According to RS Associates, an organization that represents the retail shipping industry, “A CMRA is able to receive parcels shipped by means other than a postal system; some postal operators, such as the United States Postal Service, are not. CMRAs also usually provide ancillary services such as copy or courier services.”

P.O. Boxes

Many countries, such as the UK, have national postal services that offer post office boxes, or P.O. boxes, just like in the United States. P.O. boxes are physically located at a satellite office of that country’s postal system. You’ll be assigned your own private, locked mailbox, which you can visit any time during business hours if you or a surrogate happen to be in the country. Most P.O. box services come with options (which, of course, cost more) such as the ability to email when a parcel is received, or home delivery.

P.O. boxes are easy and nearly universal (in some developing countries where there is no door-to-door mail delivery, they’re the only option), but they don’t come without their drawbacks. Since many shady, fly-by-night companies establish them to keep their operation anonymous, P.O. boxes don’t have the prestige associated with a physical address. Also, packages often can’t be sent to P.O. boxes and some shipping companies and courier services don’t deliver to them at all.

P.O. boxes are a familiar but limited option to giving your business a physical home overseas. No matter which option you choose, an actual address backed by a reliable forwarding service is your international business’s lifeline to your operations back home.


3. Social Media and SEO

A common assumption is that the Internet in general and social media, in particular, have made the world smaller — that the remarkable unifying power of Facebook and similar networks have connected formerly isolated people and cultures.

And that’s true — sort of.

The Global Social-Media Divide

When doing business in the United States — even across multiple languages — your social-media presence can be concentrated into a nice, tidy package consisting of the most popular services, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and TikTok.

However, while these may be the most used social media services in the United States, that doesn’t mean they are the most used in other countries. Have you ever heard of QZone? Probably not. It’s the social media site of choice in China, home to more than one-and-a-quarter billion people and the second-largest economy in the world.QZone has over 600 million active users — over three times that of Twitter. Right behind QZone is Sina Weibo, which boasts 560 million users and 200 percent year-over-year growth after major expansions from China into Indonesia and Singapore.

Combined, they’re bigger than Facebook.

How about V Kontakte? That’s the Facebook of Russia — and the second-largest social-media network in all of Europe.


The World is Big, Localities are Small — Think Local

So what does all this mean?

Yes, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Tiktok still dominate the Americas, Europe, and much of the world, but there is essentially no chance of successfully taking your U.S.-based social-media marketing strategy and applying it to the global business you hope to achieve.

You secured an international phone number in the region where you want to do business so your customers there could have a familiar, comfortable method to communicate with you that is second-nature to them. Your social media strategy must also be specific, tailored down to the local level.

Translating your Facebook page into the local language is not good enough, and issuing new hashtags on Twitter won’t cut it. It is up to you to determine which social networks in your market country are the most widely used, and how they can be cross-promoted with the social-media content you currently own.


Search-Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization — or SEO — is a strategy by which owners of web pages attempt to persuade search engines that their content is worthy of being placed high up in the search results, where the vast majority of people click first.

You can have the best website selling the best products in the world, but if it’s buried deep in the search engine listings, no one will ever see it.

Google wants to give its users the most relevant possible results. They do this by working to weed out automated content, stale content, old content, irrelevant content, and content derived from unscrupulous “black hat” SEO practices designed to trick the search engines.

“White hat” SEO uses a combination of precise keywords, quality links, and diverse elements including video and photos to create authoritative content that is designed for people searching, not for search engine algorithms.

The Realities of International SEO

Search engine optimization not only requires business owners to construct their websites in a way that the engines recognize as authoritative and credible, but it requires back-end analysis of metrics and data to determine what changes need to be made along the way.

The essence of SEO is the choice and placement of relevant keywords. This can be difficult even if your first language is the same as that of your target market. When you move into a global business, however, the precision required of a credible SEO strategy becomes infinitely more difficult to attain. It requires locally searching relevant keywords and meta-tags in each locality and language and analyzing their relationship to the dominant search engines in that country.

In short, unless you really know what you’re doing, consider farming out your SEO needs to a specialty firm. Look for global SEO and multilingual SEO companies that have direct experience in your target market. The same rule of thumb established with social-media marketing applies to SEO — look at the world not as one big “international market”, but as a series of localities.

One size will never fit all.


4. Marketing to International Customers

Marketing internationally to overseas customers requires a level of precision and nuance that isn’t required for the second-nature business of advertising to customers at home. To do business internationally requires marketing across different cultures, languages, customs, and legal entities. It is not something you can learn as you go. To succeed as a global business, your marketing and advertising campaigns must be based on diligent preparation and a well-planned strategy.

Language: American English, Global English, and No English at All

In order to sell products to people, you must be able to communicate with them. Even if your customers are located in countries where English is the dominant language, the subtleties of their version of the language may still contain important differences from American English. In the United States, we would never refer to “on vacation” as “on holiday” or call a “bathroom” a “water closet.” It is up to you to study the differences between the English we’re used to and that spoken by your customers.

The reality, however, is that your customers may not speak English at all. More than 70 percent of Internet users are not native English speakers. Unless you’re in a position to hire multilingual receptionists, consider live chat. Live chat services are cheap and easy to use. Once installed on your website, your customer will see a box on their end into which they can type their questions, concerns, feedback whatever.

Live chat provides instant communication — unlike an email that comes with a delayed response — without the necessity of a phone call. A slew of reliable translation tools are typically built into live-chat services that make it so that neither you nor your customers need to speak the language of the other.

Understanding International Laws and Regulations

Now that you have a platform that enables you to communicate with your customers, it’s time to put some thought into the less-direct aspects of doing business overseas. Even if you do not have a physical presence there, you are subject to the laws and regulations of the market nation.

Laws vary wildly from country to country, region to region. Regulations regarding shipping, distribution, the legality of certain items and ministries or offices that handle these regulations are complicated and can often seem arbitrary. The rules regarding advertising and marketing are often even murkier.

For example, the United States is lax when it comes to using words like “best” or “better” in marketing and ad campaigns. But countries like Germany, Belgium and France are incredibly strict when it comes to language in competitive advertising. Many countries also have laws regarding contests, sweepstakes, giveaways, coupons, and premium offers. Again, it is up to you to know the rules and regulations in your target country.

Customs: The Other Rule of Law

Even if you follow the letter of the law, your business can suffer irreparable damage by violating that country’s unwritten laws — or customs. In March of 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addressed a group of wealthy Jewish donors. When discussing the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, he drew gasps when referring to the “occupied territories.” Many pro-Israel activists abhor that phrase, and instead prefer to say “disputed lands.”

Even an American talking to Americans in America can stumble over culturally sensitive speech and action regarding ethnic origin, perceptions of history, and nationalistic sensitivities. When doing business overseas, the landmines can be much less obvious.

In one instance, a toothpaste manufacturer got into hot water with an ad campaign in Southeast Asia that glorified bright, white teeth — unaware that there, dark teeth are held in high esteem.

Colors and symbols are ingrained in many cultures. In Japan, China, and parts of Africa, for example, white — not black — is the color of mourning. Shipping and advertising laws are codified and can be navigated by legal professionals. Cultural nuances are not and cannot. Make sure the logos, language, colors, and emblems on your website and packaging mesh with local customs.


Finally, the content of your ads needs to be localized. Resist the urge to use a one-size-fits-all boilerplate template for customers in different regions. Just as a job applicant would be wise to tailor each resume and cover letter to the specific job for which he or she is applying, business owners must consider their ads as their resumes. Yes, the Internet is shrinking the world, and, yes, America drives the Internet, but there is a reason that ads look remarkably different even in culturally familiar places like Australia and England.

The reality is, doing business outside of the United States requires customized, targeted ads specific to each locality in which you sell your product. Differences in laws, language, customs, rules, and culture are all snares that can snag even the savviest marketer. As an American businessperson, you must understand your product and your market in order to succeed. When your business goes global, you must understand the people, governments, cultures, and ethnicities that exist where those products are marketed. To do business, you must first do your homework.