By HOWARD CURTIS
“International business” can mean different things to different people. If you own and operate an online business, and in the daily course of doing business you occasionally fulfill orders for international customers, perhaps you consider yourself to be an international businessperson. If you regularly travel back and forth from two or more countries in the course of your job role, you too may consider yourself to be operating in the international business arena. But the truth is that not everyone who is engaged in business internationally is an international business professional. There are certain skills and qualities that set these elite professionals apart from the rest.
Defining “International Business”
At its most basic, Wikipedia defines international business as “all those business activities which involve cross border transactions of goods, services, resources between two or more nations.” This definition encompasses the broadest possible range of activities that could potentially fall under the umbrella of international business — from the exchange of goods and services to a sharing of knowledge and ideas. This definition, while accurate, does not distinguish individuals possessing special education and skills, such as those who hold an online international business degree to pursue a career in international business.
6 Steps to Success When Traveling
If you aspire to succeed in the international business arena, it will take more than a website with the capacity to accept international orders or a transatlantic phone line to accomplish your goal. Specifically, recruiters and professionals in this field highlight six steps that can prepare you for all the success you can handle on the international business stage.
- Proficiency in multiple languages. Individuals who learn more than one language are already at an advantage in an international forum. If you have your heart set on working in a specific industry that tends to concentrate in certain geographical areas, the smart choice is to begin studying the language in those areas well in advance of the start of your career. However, it is never too late to learn a new language — and there is a good chance that your colleagues across the sea will appreciate even your earliest attempts to learn their language and will encourage you to continue.
- Cultural sensitivity. Here, it is critical to be aware of what daily life is like in the foreign country you intend to work in. You need to understand the people as well as the culture, including dress codes; holidays; religious events; cultural happenings; and legal, gender and financial issues. Your knowledge and awareness will help you sidestep potential cultural “hot button” issues as you work to make your business goals a reality.
- Resilience to travel and long hours. There is no doubt that international business takes an extra toll on your private life and your free time. You can expect to spend many hours traveling and long hours at work. There will be differences in time which will take a toll on your body and mind if you don’t get enough rest. Your evening might be your colleagues’ morning, or your weekend time might be their Monday morning.
- Top-notch communications skills. While Americans in general are considered to be rather relaxed and accepting, in some countries a lack of formality in communications, etiquette and procedure will result in a lack of business success. Employing extra sensitivity to how you conduct communications and meetings is never optional in an international business setting.
- The right education and training. With the right educational background and training, you will already be aware of potential pitfall issues before you start your career, and you’ll be much better equipped to sidestep them with ease.
- Creativity and flexibility. You can expect everything about the countries you work in to be different than your own home country — from the hours, the work style, the weather, the personalities, the cuisine, the driving and even the speed at which negotiations take place. If you are a creative, flexible person who sees possibility rather than roadblocks in these differences, you will likely do quite well in an international business career.
Equipped with these valuable six steps to success, you can forestall errors of judgment or behavior, build new international relationships with ease and achieve your international business goals to the mutual advantage of all involved.
Howard Curtis grew up in Africa and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. After graduating with an international business degree, he launched a business bringing goods from Africa to the USA for sale.