Get ready for international trade

In our series on getting started in e-commerce, we look at how to deal with overseas customers drawn to your website

The great advantage of the internet is that it has no boundaries, and therefore a website is likely to attract visitors and customer from other countries.

If a company does not already export, there are several systems and procedures that need to be put in place. A website should make a company’s policies on international trade very clear.

A multi-currency, multi-lingual site may be worth the extra investment and need not be too difficult to set up if the pages are planned so that text can be cut and pasted without affecting pictures or other content.

Some search engines, such as Alta Vista (babelfish.altavista.digital.com) provide free translation services which may be adequate for straightforward communication. But if the company deals in complex or specialised products or services, using a specialist translator may be a better approach.

When dealing with overseas customers the same good-practice principles apply as with any new customer. For commercial customers, take up trade and bank references. Credit ratings are available from sources such as Dun & Bradstreet and Infocheck, but remember that such information is historic, and may not reflect the current status of a company. Credit insurance is advisable.

Remember that any trade with a customer abroad is liable to exchange risk. If invoicing in sterling, the risk is passed on to the buyer, making the total sales package look less attractive.

It is also worth remembering that while money is travelling from the customer’s account to the company’s, it is effectively lost to both parties. Put transfer instructions on every invoice and request a speedy transfer. Quote the name and branch of the bank and sort code, company name and account number.

The Department of Trade and Industry’s `cyber park’ for exporters, at www.tradeuk.com, provides advice and contacts for a wide range of international business issues. Or you can contact the local Business Link Export Counsellor.

Alternatively, contact the Information Society Initiative (ISI) Infoline on 0845 715 2000, or visit the website www.isi.gov.uk

Trading tips

* Make terms clear: pricing, payment and duty

* Make it easy to work out the price: provide a currency converter eg www.xe.net/currency and www.oanda.com

* Give metric and imperial measurements

* Explain delivery options, with costs and timing

* Returns policy: explaining this may save time and money

* Forms recording addresses should take into account conventions in other countries

* Give international telephone numbers and time zones