As the world economy continues to shrink many companies around the U.S. are finding themselves conducting business in more countries than they have targeted in the past. Many of the companies have not really been going after the international market, but through past contacts or experience they are being asked to bid on jobs in foreign countries. Doing business in other countries presents many unique challenges. First, there are the obvious:
- The language barrier can be difficult to overcome even through an interpreter.
- Different time zones can create problems trying to schedule conference calls and meetings.
- Traveling is taxing and takes more time.
- Employees become more stressed as they are asked to stay away from their normal lives and family for extended periods.
Cultural differences can also create challenges. For instance, someone not bowing while shaking a hand can insult a customer. Some cultures shake their head yes, when they don’t really mean yes. Promises may mean more in the U.S. than in other areas. Giving bribes might be the norm in some cultures. Some challenges can occur that you could never predict. We conducted a project in Asia where we had trouble with monkeys in the building. We had to bring in bigger monkeys to get rid of the little ones. That's not a typical problem here in Kentucky. Careful planning has to take place when scheduling shipments. You want to maximize your container cube and allow for enough time to make it through customs. If you forget something, it's harder to “Next Day Air” it. Shipping costs will also be more, so budgeting for that needs to take place, and local stores aren't always readily available if you need to run out and get some extra bolts or wire when running short.
Below is a checklist to follow when bidding international jobs:
- Make sure you understand the job and the terms, take your time.
- Look into any local codes or laws that could bite you.
- Allow for travel and shipping costs.
- Add in extra time for being less mobile in an international climate.
- Cover for the language barrier.
- Schedule extra shipping time to allow for customs.
- Utilize teleconferences when possible to cut down on travel.
- Make plans for work around when problems occur.
- Add in some contingency money to cover unknowns.
- Allow for additional trips for trouble shooting after the project is up and running.
In order to keep growing we need to step out of our comfort zone. This may mean doing business in other countries. You may take one step back, but hopefully you’ll take two steps forward.
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