The Skills You Need to
Conduct International Business

See also: Negotiation Across Cultures

Conducting international business doesn’t necessarily mean opening up a branch in another country, it just means opening yourself up to international leads and making sales to international clients. With the communications ability provided by the internet, this is a task that is easier now than ever before but flourishing at international business still requires a key skillset due to its differences with doing business domestically.

The following are the skills that determine whether your international efforts will be rewarded, or whether you fall flat on your face.


International business might not require speaking a different language, but it will require breaking some cultural barriers that impact communications.

These barriers can be detrimental to business if they are not dealt with, but often being sensitive and informed can be the key to success in different cultures.

There will be big faux pas that you need to know about before you travel, but as long as you study the culture beforehand these can be pre-emptively dealt with. For example, if you need to take a business trip to Japan, you will know not to be late for a meeting. If you are late for a meeting, you should know that you need to apologise profusely, and that the excuse ‘moushiwake gozaimasen’ (meaning “I have no excuse”) is almost always better than explaining the reason for your tardiness.

A skilled communicator will be able to pick up on body language and convey their own attitudes and beliefs through their own body language in a natural manner that renders cultural differences largely obsolete. However, your communications skills won’t get you very far unless you are a good problem solver.

Problem Solving

Problem solving in your own country is a lot easier than problem solving in a different country. You will speak the language, know how best to travel and have a good logistical and geographic awareness. If you’re faced with a problem and your business operates in California and Wyoming, you can just hop on a plane to the other state and will find it easy to adjust your Californian problem-solving skills to Wyoming.

This is obviously much more of an issue when conducting business in two different countries. When something goes wrong, you will need to have a problem solving protocol and be prepared to cross oceans when the stakes are high enough. Problem solving in international countries can be hugely expensive due to hidden fees and mistakes associated with a poor grasp of a country’s language and culture, as well as the costs involved in making phone-calls and arranging transport.


Cost-effectiveness is important in any business, but you can get by with not being extremely cost-effective at home. Abroad, however, it’s a different story as you will face countless charges that you could not predict. That’s why it’s important to cut every expense you can, whether it means setting up a PBX (private branch exchange) to cut the cost of international phone calls or even staying in a budget hotel on a trip. For most companies, the biggest difference in business costs between domestic and international operations comes from logistics and shipping. If you need to ship internationally, having somebody who knows freight charges inside out is a good idea.

You should also have a good awareness of financial handling and managing cash-flow. There are many cash-flow issues that can arise when doing business abroad — take a look at Apple, who in 2017 had $246 billion in overseas cash that they didn’t want to take back into America as they would have to pay tax on it. You’re unlikely to face a similar problem, but depending on the country, you might be faced with many requests for credit extension. If you’re not good at handling cash flows, this can cripple you.

Market Awareness and Strategy

Doing business in a different country means doing business in a different market.

Because penetrating different markets can be a behemoth task, you need to be able to have a great market awareness. Analyzing a market involves a few common tests (e.g. looking at Porter’s five forces), but you need to be skilled in interpreting those tests in relation to strategic decisions.

A common strategy if you are looking to involve your business overseas is to limit your risk by only offering one product or service at a time — perfecting it until it performs as well as it does domestically, and only then offering a new product or service. You will find a steep learning curve: the first product you introduce might take many months to start performing, but you will learn so much about the differences between business environments that you will have a much clearer idea of how to launch the second product or service (or whether it is even worth doing so at all).

You should have an exit strategy in place. What will happen if there is a market shock? What will you do if the international part of your business suddenly starts costing a lot more than it’s making? You need to have a clear strategy in place for how expensive it is to pull your international operations and what the break-even point is to be able to judge the risk.

Some Legal Ability

You don’t need to be a lawyer, but to do well at overseas business you need to be able to understand legal issues like customs and border operations as well as tax differences.

Not having an awareness of the extra costs involved in adhering to another country’s laws can be detrimental to your business. Hidden costs can ruin any business plan, so you need to be able to understand the intricacies of overseas operations to minimize the costs that you have not anticipated and therefore minimize the impact of hidden costs on your company’s future.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

Doing business overseas can be a profitable endeavour, but you need to be fairly certain that you have assessed the risk and have the skillset required to perform well under the additional pressures involved.

About the Author

James Daniels is a freelance writer, business enthusiast, a bit of a tech buff, and an overall geek. He is also an avid reader, who can while away hours reading and knowing about the latest gadgets and tech, whilst offering views and opinions on these topics.