Go global: A wide world of opportunity awaits

Janet Arrowood

Have you ever considered “going global” — taking your business to the next level by seeking international opportunities? Here are a few things to consider or explore.

One of the first places to start is to identify potential opportunities. Visit the United Nations Global Marketplace website at www.ungm.org. Registration is simple. You don’t usually need audited financials unless your company’s annual revenue is over $500,000. Register at Level 1 to start.

Another possibility is directly through the UN at www.unjobs.org. Through this site you’ll find links and listings for various UN organizations as well as international organizations and non-profit or non-governmental organizations. Most of the listings are for individuals, but you can link into the website and search for business or contract opportunities.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its technical and military components offer many interesting opportunities. Check out the websites at www.act.nato.int and www.ncia.nato.int.

U.S. companies often have international components, and these can be worth approaching. Many of their global opportunities aren’t formally listed on typical bidding websites. Some creative searching could be required.

Next, keep in mind a few things about other countries and cultures.

Perhaps the most important consideration is to maintain a high degree of formality. You might have multiple email exchanges, calls or other conversations before getting past “Mr.,” “Ms.,” “Dr.” or similar honorifics. When corresponding, always use a formal salutation, follow it
with a colon and include a complete signature block and closing term such as “Sincerely.” It’s easy to become less formal or informal, but nearly impossible to reverse and become more formal. People are easily insulted.

When you’re preparing a letter, proposal, marketing material or curriculum vitae, avoid jargon, idioms and such uniquely American phrases as “hit a home run.” Keep your sentences simple and free of adjectives and adverbs. Always spell out acronyms. IT might not mean information technology in Italy because IT also is the abbreviation for that country.

Most other cultures value time off — so much so they take lots more than we do. It helps to know when the person you’re trying to reach will be out of the office for a four- to six-week annual holiday. International contracting staff rarely check email or voicemail during holidays.

When you meet prospects or clients or work in their countries, keep in mind they likely do things differently. Meal times can be different — dinner at 10 p.m. in Portugal and Spain, for example.

Toilets are a special treat. Finding the flushing mechanism can be quite an adventure with pull cords, lifting knobs, treadle pedals on the floor, bidets and even simple levers.

In some countries, smoking still is allowed in offices. You could alienate a client if you complain. But never light up without first asking permission.

Power is almost always 220 volts and 50 Hz rather than 110 volts and 60 Hz. Cellphones, computers and notepads are dual voltage, but you’ll need an adaptor for our two-pin flat prong plugs in most places.

Finally, remember the people with whom you’re dealing might speak excellent English, but it’s often the “queen’s English” or “international English.” The person might not have a British accent, but their manner of speaking, turn of phrase and word choices could be different. Remember, it’s a “boot” rather than a “trunk” and a “rubber” rather than an “eraser.” The innkeeper might not ask what time you want breakfast, but instead inquire, “What time do you want me to knock you up in the morning?”

Despite all the possible obstacles and differences, going global is a great way to expand your business. Most international organizations and companies pay quickly, often with 20 percent or so upfront. Rates of pay are excellent.

The opportunities are there and the rewards boundless. Besides, you build up frequent flier miles while seeing the world.