As more companies import and export, we need a special way of understanding the world across cultural boundaries. It’s not a lifestyle; it’s a mindstyle. The following, which I wrote about extensively in “Start and Run a Profitable Exporting Business,” are twelve key aspects (skills and behaviors) of this powerful worldview -- your prerequisites to taking on the world, and your foundation for starting and running a successful import/export business.
1. Be comfortable with change.
The world is rapidly changing, and that change always includes the potential for positive developments. Import/export sellers learn to enjoy the challenges of the unknown and to watch for emerging opportunities.
Let's face it, every nanosecond something new is happening in the world. We must take that into account in our import/export transactions because it affects the outcome of all our efforts. The more connections you create with other human beings worldwide, the more acute the need to be comfortable with change.
2. Welcome new experiences, even crises, for they bring about a positive confrontation between different perspectives.
These challenges to your perspective should be used to map out new directions for your creative energies. As an import/export marketer, you must always seek to improve yourself, your product, your business, and your world.
3. Be adaptable, take risks and innovate.
Be nimble-minded and take nothing for granted. Do whatever you can to extend your global reach.
Your adaptability means that you know how different markets operate, and are sensitive to the cultural values of other countries. If things appear one way today and another tomorrow, you shift gears and work with conditions as you find them. Learn to create your strategy on your feet. That's the only way to do global business.
The more you risk, the greater your chances for success or failure, but either way, you're pushing your limits and extending your reach.
Keeping the mind fresh, fertile, and open to new perspectives -- the prerequisites of innovation -- is a must if you want to conduct business effectively worldwide. You must not merely innovate, but transform the way you do business so boldly that you inspire everyone around you.
Challenge your own preconceptions about what is and what can be. Don't withdraw when confronted with cultural differences. Instead, hang in there and ask yourself why you feel the way you do. This is real learning. Give yourself a chance to discover your own unexamined values and assumptions, and you will find it a lot easier to accept others' unfamiliar ways.
4. Learn as much as possible about the culture in which you are about to do business.
Pay attention to etiquette and protocol, and behave exactly as interpersonal situations dictate. One day you are a diplomat, the next a leader, sometimes both. When your every move is subject to interpretation, it's best to come equipped with the knowledge that will put you ahead of the game.
5. Have enormous reserves of energy along with patience and stick-to-it-iveness.
It's great to be an aggressive, energetic mover-and-shaker, but just as important to know when to slow down and let a negotiation take its own course.
You've got to be more than a garden-variety go-getter to face the world market. The work you must do is difficult and draining. Real business breakthroughs don't come easily or quickly on the domestic front, and in the global market it's a thousand times more difficult. You must deliver long-term value in terms of product quality and customer service while building and maintaining the alliances a global market demands, and you must expect it to take a lot of time. It's a slow process. It requires patience.
Stick-to-it-iveness is vital if you are going to maintain the committed effort needed to make things work. Don't quit before you have to just because you lack the nerve to keep up your efforts when there's no payoff in sight. You must get through the discouraging, nerve-racking times. Your perseverance will give you strength and confidence that carry you through even bolder efforts in the future.
6. Be comfortable with yourself before you present yourself well in the international arena.
You must know yourself well – oftentimes referenced as self-awareness -- enough to anticipate how you will react in new and difficult circumstances. You must be able to exercise self-control. You must develop inner security by counting yourself as valuable apart from your successes or failures. When you know yourself well, you are able to build connections with others by listening, empathizing and understanding. The people skills that are so essential for cultivating relationships in the global marketplace start with the positive relationship you cultivate with yourself.
7. Have passion, enthusiasm and curiosity.
You need to be alive, alert and exquisitely aware of the world around you.
Show your business associates that you value every negotiation as if it is a matter of life or death. Let your body language communicate how intensely you care. Whether standing or seated, keep your posture straight, but lean forward ever so slightly and gesture with your hands to convey urgency. Look your listener straight in the eye. Let them see something in you that they have never experienced in the course of a mundane business transaction and make them want more of it. Let them see that you are passionate about what you are building together.
Enthusiasm makes your passionate involvement friendly and accessible. Smile, let your eyes light up, let your energy flow through every gesture you make. Make your listener want to bottle up your energy and use it themselves -- or make them want to put up a shield to ward it off! Enthusiasm is contagious and irresistible -- it draws people to you no matter where in the world you are.
Finally, show your eagerness to discover more, to do more, to push the limits of the known. You need curiosity to drive you in search of "more." Your passion and enthusiasm need somewhere to go. Take the next step, go the extra mile, and wonder what if, what's next, what's possible. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, and it won't kill you, either. It can only give you a bigger and better life. Do what it takes to create change across borders.
8. Travel to at least one foreign country and stay for several weeks -- preferably with a native family -- and desire to return.
Get on a plane and head for a place you've never been before. When you get there, make yourself at home. In other words, don’t act like a tourist on holiday! If you can do that, you are on your way to becoming an import/export marketer.
If you haven't exposed yourself to foreign travel, make yourself a promise to do it soon. And when you've landed yourself somewhere far from home, teach yourself to adjust. Adapt to the culture. Interact with the locals. Cultivate friendships. Watch, listen and learn. Ask a lot of questions. Live and breathe the environment. Do as the natives do.
9. Value the relationship more than the deal.
When cultivating a potential client, never forget that that individual is more important than closing the deal under discussion. You can only do so much to make it happen -- then you have to let it happen. If a relationship is meant to be, it will -- over time and at its own pace.
You must become a true insider wherever you decide to do business, and the only way to accomplish that is to get to know the person with whom you wish to have a relationship and forget about how much time it takes. To have a genuine relationship with anyone, you must develop a history together -- or "grow up together," as it were. You have to deal with someone from time to time over a period of years, and learn to see them clearly. Trust and respect your contact, because otherwise there's no point in continuing the relationship next door, let alone across international borders. If it doesn't work out, you'll survive. And, who knows, you might even meet someone else with whom you can do your best and most inspired business!
10. Have all-encompassing perspective.
You should be able to function well on both a small and large scale -- to home in on details, yet always comprehend the big picture, and keep pace with that picture as it changes. One day you'll be trying to pin down just why the Chinese like red and the next day you'll be sorting out how the drop in the yen will affect your latest acquisition in Tokyo. You'll need to take in information, see its significance, and act on it. Cultivate your perspective and it will keep you at the cutting edge of global business.
11. Be an inspired -- and inspiring -- team builder and leader.
The challenges of the global economy are best met by a team of highly gifted professionals brought together by a worldly leader who knows how to act as "first among equals." Such a leader must have an eye for talented people who can contribute something unique and irreplaceable to the group, and must know how to provide an environment in which each member feels recognized and valued for their contributions, project after project.
The leader must provide direction, encouragement, vision and inspiration so that, together, the group becomes much more than the sum of its parts. If you can find the right people, trust them and help them grow to do great things, you'll be on the surest possible ground -- because the only resource your competitor can't duplicate is the unique and winning chemistry of your talented team.
12. Have courage -- because freedom in this world is born from courage.
To acquire courage, you must put yourself in challenging situations, either by choice or by accident, and get through them. The one thing to keep in mind is that, since few situations are truly life-or-death, you know you'll survive!
Even so, going forward with anything about which you have even the smallest doubt takes courage. Taking the first step on a project which everyone else tells you will be difficult or impossible takes courage. Putting your reputation on the line and making up your mind to deal with the consequences takes courage. Staying true to your vision, and your mission, in the face of criticism and opposition takes courage. But if you can somehow call it up when you need it, your rewards will be extraordinary.
Courage crosses all boundaries and knows no barriers. In the complicated, ambiguous world of foreign business, it is essential for the aspiring exporter.
These are the attributes that an importer/exporter must cultivate and put to work in the international marketplace. To take on the world -- a world in which only the fittest will survive -- you must make yourself one of the fittest. This is hard work. It will test your motivation at every turn. Are you ready to take it on? If so, keep reading!Photo courtesy Free Digital Photos, Idea Go