hand holding a tablet with a world map on the screen

Creating an International Website

Looking to make your website easier for international buyers? Here are some of the first considerations to think about when making your new site.

  1. Pick a site segmentation strategy

How do you want users to get to the international part of your website? You can create a country level domain (aka international domain) that brings people directly to that webpage that is tailored to their culture/language. You can create a subdomain or a subfolder on your website as well, where you aren't necessarily creating an entirely new site for each country, but sub-pages on your current site. The most important think to think about here is what the entry point on your website will be for international users.

  • International domain (i.e. yourcompany.fr) ; country code top level domain
  • Subdomain (i.e. fr.yourcompany.com)
  • Subfolder (i.e. yourcompany.com/fr/)
  1. Pick languages

There's a good chance that your business already receives a significant amount of international traffic to your website. If your business website uses Google Analytics, the tool can help you pick the initial language (or languages) you want to start with. In Google Analytics you can find this information by navigating to the “Geo" tab and then clicking either “Language" or “Location."

  1. Translate your content

Translating your website is where you should put the bulk of your efforts and resources. If a customer is going to purchase your product or service, there shouldn't be any confusion about what your product or service offers.

You can use paid services like Bablic or Smartling to translate your website. Beware free solutions like Google and Bing Translate.  You'll want the site to read naturally to the person of that language, which can be achieved by using a fluent and competent translator.

  1. Redirect your visitors

Step 1: Add a link element. Specify the language in your website homepage with a HTML link element pointing to the different language versions of your website.

Step 2: Give link options to visitors. You can add a series of manual links on your website that points international visitors to the proper language version of your website.

  1. Submit to search engines and utilize SEO

Google, Bing, & top search engines in the countries you've translated. StatCounter is a global statistics company that uses data collected from over 2 million websites globally. You can find the top search engines in many countries with StatCounter's global search engine market share page. For example, 60% of people in China use Baidu.

Use key words – like “international shopping,” “international orders accepted,” etc. to increase SEO. Can also look up popular searches for similar products in specific countries.

A Word About International Sites and E-commerce

Money and payment providers often add complexity to international websites. While your site might be translated in French, it's possible your payment provider isn't available for people in France, or your payment provider might not accept the currency of the country. Be up front by letting your international visitors know right away if your payment processor accepts their country's currency.

 

Here are some other key considerations...

Pay close attention to regulations. Of course, selling internationally brings a whole new set of rules. Once you’ve decided where you’ll sell, take the time to look into specific rules and regulations for that country. A few key areas to consider:

  • Duties and taxes.Find out if duties and taxes will affect the prices of items you plan to sell in target markets. Make sure you understand the rules that apply to your products so you can let your customers know about any expenses they’re expected to pay from the outset.
  • Customs.All your international shipments will have to make their way through customs, the agency that regulates shipments entering a country or region. Each package will need a customs form on the outside; some shipping services even help take care of this – do some checking to see if yours does.
  • Free-trade agreements.These agreements are good news for international sellers because they help reduce or eliminate tariffs for some products. The US has agreements with 20 countries, and while taking advantage of these agreements might mean more recordkeeping work for you, the savings are worth the extra effort.

Think about shipping and returns. The best practices you already apply to shipping are even more important when selling internationally.

  • Set clear delivery expectations. International shipping can take longer and cost more for customers, so it’s vital to keep them in the loop. Give accurate delivery estimates based on country and list shipping costs in an easy-to-find place.
  • Establish a return policy, and when putting your policy together, consider:
    • Any requirements as detailed by local consumer laws.
    • Refund stipulations, like when you’ll issue them and whether you’ll give store credit or a cash refund
    • Time limit for returns
    • Restocking, return delivery, or other fees.

With all these considerations, where do you start when building your site?

  1. Check your payment provider

Many payment providers have rules and restrictions in place for countries you can accept payments from. PayPal,

Square, Visa, and other payment processors can let you know where they accept payments. Different ecommerce platforms will work well with different payment methods. If you’re looking for a payment provider to assist in international payment processing, be sure to look for one that has a strong global reputation. To signal trust to customers on the different payment processing options available, you could add their logos to the footer of your website.

Research local buyers’ preferred payment methods. These vary significantly depending on the country. It probably won’t surprise you that most people prefer paying in their local currency. Some payment providers will let you list products in a number of different currencies. If you can’t offer payment in local currency, make sure to give a currency conversion so customers can see what they’re paying.  PayPal, for instance, will give you access to local funding methods, without the hassle of having to open multiple merchant accounts overseas. You can accept payments in more than 200 markets in 25 currencies. And it’s already built into the top ecommerce platforms and carts, so setup is easy.

  1. Pre-calculate shipping costs

International shipping is more expensive than local shipping due to distance, tariffs, and taxes. Before you start selling internationally, make sure you calculate shipping and handling costs to ensure you come out profitable at the end. This includes not only international shipping fees, but also fulfillment costs, warehousing, and shipping supplies.

You also have the option to tailor shipping methods available and how you charge for shipping based on the customer’s destination country, including slow and expedited options, flat-rate shipping, real-time rates, or free shipping over a certain threshold. **Look at Canadian websites

  1. Optimize your online store

No matter where your customers are shopping from, your store’s website is the buying hub. Depending on the size of your business, you may want to open unique online stores tailored for each country or region. Another option is to optimize your current website for international buyers with a multi-language translator tool or create landing pages optimized and tailored for different countries or regions.

For example, many ecommerce brands will provide an option (sometimes with flag icons on the top of the page) for international customers to view a page that’s in their language and featured products available in their area.

  1. Get a third-party fulfillment partner

A third-party logistics (3PL) partner can help you with almost every aspect of digital fulfillment and shipping when launching into a new international market. When researching 3PLs, ask them about their international fulfillment services and how they can help you get set up quickly. Example: Amazon, Alibaba

As always, remember to reach out to a SBDC International Trade Consultant to receive confidential one-on-one consulting as you embark on your international business journey.

 

Written by Sarah Mailloux, Certified Export and Trade Counselor

Newsmakers for March 22Sarah has years of experience helping businesses start, pivot, and grow. She specializes in market research & design, international business, and business ideation/start-up. She also has 5+ years of Wealth Management & Business Reporting experience. Sarah is an entrepreneur herself, consulting universities and business through academic coaching, instructional design, and non-profit marketing. She has a BS and MS in International Business, is an Export Certified Advisor, an is a Certified Ideation & Commercialization Coach.


drawing of a figure with a globe

Expanding Online Markets: Global eCommerce

Selling products or services internationally can seem daunting. Often, small business ask the question: Is international business possible for me? The answer is YES it certainly is! 20 years ago, international selling seemed only possible for the largest corporations. Today, businesses of all sizes have the opportunity to do cross-border selling via international ecommerce — without a billion-dollar budget, a multinational team, and a physical presence that they own and operate themselves. 

According to Oberlo.com, global ecommerce sales reached $2.5 trillion worldwide in 2019. In 2023, it’s estimated to reach $6.5 trillion. These numbers tell us that the opportunity is there, but you have to be willing and ready to make changes to your current fulfillment strategy to meet the needs and demands of your international customers.

As a small business owner, you are juggling many responsibilities and challenges. Just because international business is possible for small businesses, doesn't mean you are convinced it is right for you. So why should your small business sell products abroad?

When selling internationally, small businesses are able to:

  • Stay competitive in the marketplace
  • Expand market reach
  • Explore untapped markets via the internet
  • Create Economies of Scale
  • Create opportunities for growth

 

How do small businesses sell products (or services) abroad? The short answer: Get your products online! Of course, the answer is not that simple. There are many options for you to choose from.

You can:

  1. Sell on Current Website, Ship from U.S.
  2. Sell Your Products on an International Marketplace
  3. Ship Internationally Using a Third-Party Service
  4. Drop Ship Internationally
  5. Partner with an Overseas Company to Stock and Ship your Products
  6. Support International Payment Methods
  7. Support International Currencies
  8. Offer Local Customer Service
  9. Localize your Site

As you decide which option might make the most sense for you, review the below key considerations and notice that they span an array of factors.


International Trade Impacts Everyone

There was a time when companies selected to decide if they would participate in international trade, exporting, or importing. It is no longer a decision. With supply chains networked around the world, we are all impacted on a business and a personal level. When your company initiates a website or social media content it becomes international.

The global impact of a recession in China - The Boston Globe

Companies still have the option to decide if they will participate in international trade or rely on others to make the decisions for them. It is a matter of the degree of control and risk a company deems appropriate for its operations. Exports have often helped companies to retain workers when the U.S. economy was down, and imports have served the purpose of obtaining materials that are sometimes not available in the U.S. market or at a price that enables a U.S. product to be market competitive.

 

You Can Master the Skills
  • Start slow and grow your knowledge; it is a learning process.
  • Basics domains of knowledge include global business management, marketing, supply chain management, and financing options.
  • Exporting and Importing have some similarities although they are not the same.
  • Export Basic Programs and Webinars are offered by the Small Business Development Centers, on SBA websites, and through the International Trade Administration, U.S. Commercial Service. PA DCED, Office of International Business Development also has numerous services available to assist companies at the regional and state level.International Business Degree | UMSL
  • Key Considerations:
    • Classifying your products; determine taxes and/or duties.
    • Determining best potential markets for exporting or importing goods.
    • Learn how to prepare international quotations including terms of shipment and methods of payment, along with financing considerations.
    • Developing market entry methods and/or contacts/suppliers.
    • Export and Import Compliance – Product Standards & Compliance Requirements
    • E-Commerce, Privacy, and other evolving regulations
    • Packaging, Shipping, Customs Clearance
    • Collection of Payments; Paying for Goods and Service

International Trade is not boring, it will push you to use your intelligence, be better informed, and constantly learn something new. Through the process, you will become better at your business and more competitive. Are you ready for the challenge?

The SBDC International Trade Specialists are available to assist you through the processes and/or to provide information on educational programs and referrals as needed.

Written by Vickie Gyenes, Global Trade Manager at St. Vincent College SBDC

Vickie Gyenes joined the Saint Vincent College SBDC in 1998 after over twenty years of pragmatic industry experience. Vickie holds a BS in Business Management from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Science in Operational Excellence from Saint Vincent College. Vickie is one of the first 100 people in the United States to obtain the NASBITE Certified Global Business Professional (CGBP) designation. Vickie assists clients with international trade development and educational training, domestic and international market research, business start-up and expansion business plans along with financial projections. She has traveled with companies to Canada, Mexico, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and China.


Cybersecurity Do's and Don't's

Do you know why cyber threats target small businesses? Small businesses are often an easy target because they do not have a sophisticated network and systems structure and no not have an IT department, or even an IT manager in many cases.

Cyber threats know that many small businesses lack the knowledge to follow best cybersecurity practices and utilize third party platforms and the cloud to host information. It can be overwhelming to navigate how to best secure your business and your data. A great place to start is by reviewing our simple Do's and Don't's of cybersecurity.

 

DO

  • Use Unique and complex passwords and change them regularly

Per the NIST latest guidelines, the length of a password is a crucial security aspect, and all user-created passwords should be at least 8 characters in length

  • Turn on encryption on all devices

Encryption is a way to conceal information by altering it so that it appears to be random data. Learn more about data encryption here.

  • Regularly back up all your data and make sure there is version control

Back up to the cloud or to a hard drive - usually it is good to do research on both and weigh the pros and cons for your business

  • Use antivirus/anti-malware on all devices
  • Keep all software and operating systems up to date
  • Pay attention to possible signs of phishing

Phishing is a type of social engineering where an attacker sends a fraudulent message (normally via email or chat) designed to trick a person into revealing sensitive information to the attacker or to deploy malicious software on the victim's infrastructure like ransomware

  • Educate all employees

Your own employees may be your biggest security risk. Look at tips for training your employees here.

  • Create a data breach response plan

Have a process written down for what you will do if data is lost and/or stolen

  • Use multi-factor authentication when possible

Multi-factor authentication is a layered approach to securing data where a system requires a user to present a combination of two or more credentials to verify their identity for login. MFA increases security because even if one credential becomes compromised, unauthorized users will be unable to meet the second authentication requirement (normally a push to one's email or phone as a text message to confirm the sign on).

  • Get a cybersecurity insurance policy

Cyber insurance generally covers your business' liability for a data breach involving sensitive customer information, such as account numbers, health records, personally identifiable information like names and addresses, credit card information, etc. Review policies to find the best fit for your business.

DON'T

  • Open attachments or click links from unknown sources

This is often how attackers enter into your network in a process called phishing.

  • Use free public WiFi without a VPN

Free public WiFi sounds great for you as a small business owner, but it all sounds great to the hackers of the world. Public WiFi requires no authentication to establish a network connection. This creates an opportunity for the hacker to get access to unsecured devices on the same network.  Learn more about VPNs here.

  • Share passwords or use the same password for multiple accounts

Try to have different passwords for each account (and especially separate for any personal versus business accounts). Do not share passwords with others on your team.

  • Scan random QR codes or accept random Airdrops

Don't scan a QR code (online or in-person) unless you know the company/individual sharing is reputable. You can also review the link the QR code will take you to prior to opening.

  • Install apps or software from unknown sources

Always do your research before downloading any apps or software

  • Recycle old devices without properly wiping all data

It might seem convenient to just throw an old laptop or phone out, but make sure to wipe the computer (AKA delete all data and information from the hard drive) prior to disposing

  • Login to personal accounts on public computers

Especially with social media and other accounts, it is easy to log in on a public computer, and then forget to log out. It is best to use public computers only for searching public information.

  • Leave unused services running on your devices, EX; Bluetooth
  • Plug in random portable devices

If you don't know where that USB came from, do not plug it into your laptop! Many hackers use this method to hack into computers of unsuspecting victims.

  • Visit unsecure websites (website without the "s" in "https"

Written by Sarah Mailloux, Digital Marketing and eCommerce Specialist

Newsmakers for March 22Sarah has years of experience helping businesses start, pivot, and grow. She specializes in market research & design, international business, and business ideation/start-up. Sarah has managed the statewide digital marketing and eCommerce program for the network and presented over 30 workshops in digital marketing and website assistance. She also has 5+ years of Wealth Management & Business Reporting experience. Sarah is an entrepreneur herself, consulting universities and business through academic coaching, instructional design, and non-profit marketing. She has a BS and MS in International Business, is an Export Certified Advisor, an is a Certified Ideation & Commercialization Coach.


Cybersecurity Best Practices for Small Business

While some have returned to the office, many are still working from home—at least part of the time. Many small business owners have grown accustomed to the "work from anywhere" lifestyle. Remote work is here to stay, so what can you do to make sure you and your employees are safe from potential cyber threats?

1. Password Protect your WiFi

Your home WiFi network should always be password protected. Without a password, anyone can connect their devices to your home network, leaving you and your personal data vulnerable. The back of your router will usually have instructions for setting up a password for your network.

2. Enable Multifactor Authentication

Multifactor authentication, often called two-step verification, is a great way to stay secure. Usernames and passwords can be guessed, so to keep yourself safe, enable multifactor authentication on online accounts like your bank account and social media profiles. Instead of just a password, multifactor authentication will have you complete two actions to verify that it’s actually you attempting to log in. They may send a prompt to your cell phone or email a pin number for you to enter. Whatever method is used for verification, it’s usually simple but makes a big difference in keeping you secure.

3. Update your software

We’re all guilty of snoozing an alert sent to our phone or computer saying there’s an update available. But keeping your software up to date is critical in staying secure. Software updates contain more than just aesthetic upgrades and new features. They patch security flaws or holes that can leave your data vulnerable to hackers. By keeping your software up to date, you’re ensuring that your data is secure.

4. Stay alert for SMS and voice phishing

SMS and voice phishing scams are similar to email phishing. Scammers will text or call you with the goal of getting your personal information, like a social security number or credit card, or they’ll send you a link that installs malware on your device when you click. Avoid falling for these types of scams by staying alert. Don’t give out personal information and only use secure channels to contact a company’s support representatives.

5. Be on the lookout for phishing emails

91% of successful data breaches start with a phishing email. Hackers use phishing emails because they’re effective, so it’s important you understand how to identify a phishing email. When you receive an email, ask yourself a few questions. Am I expecting this email? Do I recognize this email address? When I hover over a link, where does it go? If you’re not 100% confident that the email is legitimate, it’s better to be cautious.

 

Written by Sarah Mailloux, Digital Marketing and eCommerce Specialist

Newsmakers for March 22Sarah has years of experience helping businesses start, pivot, and grow. She specializes in market research & design, international business, and business ideation/start-up. Sarah has managed the statewide digital marketing and eCommerce program for the network and presented over 30 workshops in digital marketing and website assistance. She also has 5+ years of Wealth Management & Business Reporting experience. Sarah is an entrepreneur herself, consulting universities and business through academic coaching, instructional design, and non-profit marketing. She has a BS and MS in International Business, is an Export Certified Advisor, an is a Certified Ideation & Commercialization Coach.