Learning to compete in the global marketplace can be an intimidating undertaking for the small business owner. But the global game is no longer just for the "big boys." Whether you are a one-person service e-shop or a multi-billion-dollar traditional manufacturing company, going global is a matter of survival.

Where do you start? Begin by adapting the skills, interests and resources you already have. Then, learn about crossing borders the hard way -- by doing it -- but first you must have the basics in place: time, nerve, imagination, capital, energy, knowledge and determination. If you have these, you're halfway up the hill. If you want to reach the top, you implement the following 7-degree action plan to global marketing nirvana.

1. Conduct detailed market research (study business climate) to determine if there is a need for your product or service. This measure will also alert you to possible barriers to entering your target market.

2. Package your product or service so one can see that yours is notably different from that of others. If you think there are no competitors, you didn't research enough. Keep digging.

3. Size your product or service according to the needs of the foreign market. In other words, listen to your customers! If all your customers tell you your offering is too large, then size it to their liking. If you give too many choices, it can also be confusing.

4. Size the market you are entering. Any major advertising agency or market research company in the foreign country where you wish to do business can make market predictions.

5. Participate in industry-wide trade shows. This is a uniquely effective way to contact cross-border customers, especially if you have a difficult product to sell, or a product that a customer needs to actually see. Check with The Department of Commerce to see what they are supporting and look for a listing of exhibitions held in markets worldwide.

6. Know the basics about your product or service when customers inquire and respond swiftly with accurate answers. If it's a product, inform the customer about production capacities, production facilities, product quality, timing of supply, packaging, transportation and price. If it's a service, describe your area of special expertise (for example, a global marketing communications program), clients served, turn-around time, applicable fees, credentials and any other important background information.

7. Visit customers regularly who are involved in your business transactions. Personalize your relationships and be prepared to yield and compromise when needed.

Make It All Work

Let's say you do all the above, but there is something intangible still missing. Beyond the 7-degrees, certain qualities and competencies are priceless in making global relationships work. In order to take on the world in business, you should have:

o Effective business skills. You need to be a seasoned manager -- to have proven that you can get along smoothly with people and handle complex projects. You should also know your company inside and out, and know its products and technology thoroughly. These qualities -- along with good communications skills, especially listening -- will quickly become apparent to potential foreign clients. If you can make time to learn the language of your target market, then do so -- there is no better aid to understanding native culture.

o Genuine interest in the country and its people. I'm talking about a passionate desire to get to know the people and culture of the country in which you wish to do
business. Curiosity, a sense of wonder and a desire to learn will take you much farther than books or ill-informed opinions. Take a learning approach: be open, ask questions.

o Self-awareness. This isn't just a character trait, it's a competence. It's the ability to evaluate yourself accurately and fairly, and to integrate feedback from others. Increased self-awareness leads to increased self-acceptance, and helps make room for new people and experiences in your life. Self-acceptance enables you to accept others -- and can help you build business relationships based on mutual respect.

o Ability to handle yourself well under stress. Test your reaction to the following scenario: You are traveling solo to a foreign country you have never been to before. You are thinking of converting your dollars to the local currency. What's the exchange rate? Where will you get more money if you run out? How will you get from the airport to your hotel? What if your customer forgets you are coming? What happens if nobody there speaks English?

If you panicked at any one of these questions, you should stay in the domestic market. If none of these possibilities worried you, then you already understand that these and other stressful situations come with the global territory.

Don't think for a minute that mastering the 7 degrees toward global marketing nirvana or having any one of these characteristics is a sure ticket to mastering the global marketplace. But if you develop all of these capabilities and add another -- stick-to-itiveness -- before you go global, your chances for success overseas will certainly improve.

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Laurel Delaney (LaurelDelaney.com) is the founder of GlobeTrade.com and the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog. She can be reached at ldelaney@globetrade.com.