Globalization is one of the defining forces of our era. As the world becomes more connected, we find our small businesses competing in a bigger arena than ten or twenty years ago. In some ways, this is thrilling. In others, it’s terrifying. No matter how you feel about globalization, it’s so big that you can’t ignore it. That’s why we plan ahead.

We all have a hand in globalization

Globalization comes with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. We find ourselves competing with more people and scrapping for attention in loud markets. We find ourselves losing the local touch while being priced out of markets by countries where the cost of living is low. If that weren’t enough, we run into all sorts of language and culture barriers, as well as strange laws.

At the same time, though, we gain access to global markets. We have more suppliers and a larger labor market to draw from. We can compete directly with big companies and find strategic partners with a few emails. And if all else fails, a bigger world means more small niches to work our way into.

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We’re going to cover all these subjects and more in this article about globalization. Here is an outline:

How Globalization Makes Small Business Harder

  1. Increased Competition
  2. The Scramble for Attention
  3. Loss of Local Greatness
  4. The Threat of Cheaper Alternatives
  5. Language and Cultural Barriers
  6. International Laws

How Globalization Makes Small Business Easier

  1. Access to Global Markets
  2. Remote Workers
  3. Ability to Compete with Big Companies
  4. Access to More Suppliers
  5. Easier to Find Strategic Partners
  6. Mass Customization and the Flourishing of Tiny Niches

How Globalization Makes Small Business Harder

Increased Competition

Let’s start with the bad news first. In fact, let’s start with the worst of the bad news. When the whole world is in your market, then you’re competing with the whole world. You might be the best underwater basket weaver in Omaha, but are you the best in the world?

arm wrestling

As you can imagine, this aspect of globalization is the one that causes deep insecurity for a lot of people. You cannot simply will yourself into being the best X in the world. It’s very rare that you will ever meet somebody who is the best at anything in the world. The world is huge. There are almost 8 billion people in it.

How then, does one compete when they can’t be the best? There are a few ways, and they’re not mutually exclusive. First, you can accept that people don’t generally make rational decisions. They rely on heuristics and can’t reliably tell the difference between “good” and “best.” Even for those who can, that distinction is often irrelevant.

Second, marketing is about crafting the right experiences for the right people and selling them in the right way. Every instance of the word “right” in that previous sentence means a slightly different niche. With a bigger world, there are more niches you can occupy, giving you a fighting chance to differentiate your small business from others.

Lastly, a bigger world means more potential collaborators. You can find suppliers and strategic partners more easily, letting you act like you’re running a bigger organization than you really are.

The Scramble for Attention

You have to fight for the best listing on Amazon. It’s tough to get the top result on Google. Even having a highly engaged post on Facebook seems difficult. In a world with so many choices, consumers are having to rely on mental shortcuts to make simple decisions. There are nearly 2 billion websites on the Internet right now, so getting and keeping attention is very hard. It can feel like screaming into the void!

screaming for attention

Globalization forces us to cope with the truly enormous size of our world. You would need Carl Sagan to do a TV show to help you really understand how many websites 2 billion is. Turns out, we don’t just compete for money. We compete for attention. Sensory overload is one of the defining issues of our time. It used to be that TV, radio, print, and billboards were the primary means of advertising. It was easier to tell ads from non-ads. Now that’s not true. The internet kicked that down like the Koolaid man kicks down walls. (Oh yeah!)

Thankfully, the internet threw us one very important lifeline in this respect: targeted advertising. Instead of broadcasting to massive audiences like in the old days of advertising, we can target only customers who might like our products or services through Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s cheaper, more effective, less annoying, and I’d argue good for society (when not being used for misdeeds).

Loss of Local Greatness

There was a time when the vast majority of businesses could either be some variation of: “the best in town”, “the fastest in town”, or “the cheapest in town.” I was born in 1993. When it comes to buying things, my town is the entire world. The percentage of sales being made online compared to brick-and-mortar retail stores has been growing steadily for years. I don’t imagine this trend reversing any time soon.

A lot of old-school marketers mourn the loss of “in town” as a valuable part of their niche. To be fair, local businesses are still needed for auto repair, haircuts, groceries, and much more. There is something deeply uncomfortable about dealing with competitors in China, India, Australia, the UK, Brazil, and so on. This doesn’t eliminate the value of a niche, nor does it negate the value of product-market fit. Rather, it simply means that location is becoming less of a selling point.

The Threat of Cheaper Alternatives

Have you noticed how our toys keep getting cheaper while food, housing, healthcare, and tuition keep going up? Foreign countries can’t compete with the essentials I just listed because they’re so location-centric. However, TVs and smartphones? China says “game on!”

goods on sale

Just like you can’t compete as easily on location, you can’t compete as easily on price. In my opinion, this is a more acceptable loss to traditional marketers. In small business, competing on price is not usually the best way to operate. It never really has been. It’s too easy for your big-shot competitors to come in and use economies of scale to deliver goods cheaper than you can.

What’s changed now is that a small business owner in a low cost of living country like India can compete with an American megacorporation. If anything, this is good for you because scrappy startups in foreign countries can sling rocks at domestic industry Goliaths you couldn’t otherwise take on.

Language and Cultural Barriers
welcome in different languages

As if changes to the amount of competition, pricing strategies, and the loss of location as a differentiator weren’t enough to make you uncomfortable, your new customers are speaking Spanish. Or Mandarin. Or French. If you run a small business, you’ve probably shipped to foreign countries. That means your customers might not be great English speakers, which makes your job – to provide good products and good customer service – even trickier.

A good deal of people overseas are fluent in English, though, so perhaps there isn’t a language barrier. Even still, there are often subtle cultural differences you need to be aware of when your customers are overseas. Depending on your line of business, it may be very useful to know that the Japanese value punctuality or that the French expect you to say “bonjour.” Every culture has different events that shaped it. We can’t understand all the context of our own culture, let alone someone else’s. Yet here we are, in the thrust of globalization, required to at least try.

International Laws
justice is blindfolded statue

Last but not least, international law can be confusing. As an example, look at this Wikipedia index page for European Union regulations alone. When we do business in foreign countries or with foreign customers, we often fall under the jurisdiction of their laws. The legal systems of the world powers right now were not conceived for the level of connectivity we enjoy today. That causes some weird effects, like marketers mistakenly tossing out perfectly well-made email lists to comply with GDPR – an email regulation that is binding when you contact residents of the European Union.

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How Globalization Makes Small Business Easier

Access to Global Markets

The flip side of a more competitive world is that everybody has to deal with it. Yes, for a small business marketer, finding a competitive niche in a big world is daunting, to put it lightly. However, the same applies to your suppliers and everyone you purchase from. You can cut costs to the bone and save it for the value-adding parts of your business.

global market

It gets even better. You don’t necessarily have to make a product for people who live in your country. You can sell to Belgium, Argentina, Egypt, or Iran. As long as they’re willing to pay shipping costs, you can spread your small business’s handiwork across the globe. You can provide online services to anyone without having to think twice about location.

Remote Workers
remote work from cafe

Products can be shipped and services can be delivered remotely. That statement applies not just to what you sell, but also to the labor market. In a world where valuable labor can be digitized, your small business can take advantage in a number of ways. You can hire stay-at-home mothers in your own community for data entry, programmers in developing countries where the cost of living is lower, and even set up around-the-clock customer service.

Afraid of hiring people for ridiculously low wages in developing countries on moral grounds? You ought to be – that’s a very good consideration. However, don’t overlook purchasing power parity. Currencies aren’t necessarily valued relative to their power.

A US Dollar is worth 71 Indian Rupees at the time that I’m writing this article. However, it costs about 17 Rupees to buy goods in India which would cost $1 in the United States. That means your dollar goes about four times farther in India. In China, a dollar goes about twice as far. This effect goes the other way around too – a US dollar won’t go as far in Denmark or Luxembourg.

Ability to Compete with Big Companies

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” One of the beautiful things about being a small business in a globalized world is that you can appear to be a polished, large business without necessarily being one. Small mom-and-pop hardware stores can never look like Home Depot in physical space. Online, sharp branding, a user-friendly website, and a good selection of products goes a long way. That is to say, it’s easier to look big than it ever has been.

coca-cola signs

One might say “that’s more of a consequence of the internet than of globalization.” That may be true, but without a steady stream of affordable supplies and a wider labor market, it would be a lot harder.

Here is an example. My friend, Sean Fallon, runs Smunchy Games. He’s making a variety of tabletop games, one of which we’re working on together. Many people mistake his organization for being larger than it is. This is because he’s coordinating a team across the US and across the globe to gather great artwork, write great stories, test his games with players, and maintain an online presence. You take away the global market, and he wouldn’t be able to do all this. It would be out of his grasp.

Access to More Suppliers
woman business owner using laptop

You may not be able to compete on price or location as easily anymore, but you can still compete on niche and operational excellence. Strangely, a lot of organizations simply do not understand how to leverage the global marketplace. Globalization allows you to find the most skilled workers anywhere to work on specific tasks. Meanwhile, everything that’s not core to your business can be done in an incredibly cost-efficient way because of increased competition.

Easier to Find Strategic Partners

Globalization makes the world simultaneously a lot smaller and a lot bigger. As a consequence, it becomes a lot harder to compete alone. Big companies have been undergoing a lot of mergers and acquisitions. They know that by combining their resources, they have a better shot of success in the global market. Small businesses can do the same thing, but without losing their independence.

handshake

Strategic partnerships make it easier to succeed in the marketplace. Maybe a good partnership reduces shipping costs. Perhaps it allows you to acquire a material you need at a reduced cost because the supplier knows you will keep them in business. No matter how or why a strategic partnership is a good thing for your small business, the fact is that globalization makes it easier to team up.

Right now, I can go on Twitter and find businesses from all over the world. I can create communities of small business owners and creators, finding specific people I would like to work with. It’s no secret that teamwork makes the dream work. Globalization makes it easier to create an incredible team.

Mass Customization and the Flourishing of Tiny Niches

Globalization has connected more people than ever before. It has broken down the barriers to doing business across nations. As a result, there are more needs to fill than ever before. In 1980, if you wanted to make a product that only appealed to 5,000 people in the world, you were probably out of luck. The business idea was not viable. Now, however, you actually can sell that good because you can reach those 5,000 people scattered across the globe.

man painting ceramic vase

Naturally, no matter what you sell, it will ultimately need to fill a need. You will ultimately need to achieve product-market fit if you want to succeed. The beauty of globalization is that you can reach more markets, and therefore, more products become viable for business. As complex and frightening as competing on a global scale may be, it’s offset by opening up possibilities that wouldn’t have existed thirty years ago.


Globalization is here to stay. As small business owners, we have to prepare for the challenges and opportunities that globalization brings. We may have more competition and problems to solve, but the beauty is that we have more options too.

How is your small business dealing with globalization? Let me know in the comments below!

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67 Comments

Bryce · October 21, 2019 at 9:15 am

I always try to support local small business as much as possible. We have a FLGS that is more expensive than online retailers but I would rather keep that money local and help to promote their business!

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 9:22 am

    That’s great! Your local game store provides something that the big, impersonal ones like Amazon simply can’t – a real community feel.

Debbie · October 21, 2019 at 9:26 am

I absolutely love the idea of “the little guys” working together to make the dream work! It’s really neat to see so many small business owners succeeding which will only help to encourage others to try as well!

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 9:28 am

    Same here! With the way our economy is structured and the way technology tends to put us in our bubbles, I really feel like the “little guys” teaming up is necessary. It’s a way of rebuilding community ties that have needed rebuilding for a while.

Entropy · October 21, 2019 at 9:36 am

In some niche markets I feel there is currently a change in the way consumers relate to the market. We’ve seen that happen in the way onePlus attacked the market with a strong punchline (“flagship killer”) and relying on tech savvy consumers (and an affordable price). Add to that the power of specialized online influencers, and you have a strong brand and dissemination campaign.
Board games seem to be undergoing the same kind of phenomena, boosted by some excellent game designers and publishers (who also have an strong internet presence).

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 9:43 am

    There definitely is. We’re seeing a broad trend, increasing with each successive generation, where consumers really engage with brands. They’ll talk to them on social media, do research online, listen to influencers like you mentioned. It’s a huge sea change!

    Board games definitely already skew this way because they exist within a really niche market. Customers are used to doing a lot of research and hearing about great new games through word of mouth 🙂

Benjamin K. · October 21, 2019 at 9:47 am

As a freelance copy editor, globalization has made it possible for me to find more work than I ever could have. I’ve had clients from across the United States, but also some from across the oceans as well. Of course, that means English editors from other countries can also compete for clients. But, as I continue to do good work and receive good reviews, I am able to be a competitive part of the competition.

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Competing globally comes with a lot of give and take, but seems to be working in your favor!

Ryan C · October 21, 2019 at 10:55 am

Its hard to support my FLGS as they have told me “no we dont ever do sales” and no we don’t do specials. As someone with a very very tight budget, its very hard not to go online and look for a MUCH better price.

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 11:37 am

    Yeah, and that’s the downside of globalization (at least for the local folks). Competing on price is brutally difficult when your competition is in, say, Honduras.

Margaret Gallagher · October 21, 2019 at 12:11 pm

So informative – certainly explains what o meed to do to get ahead in business

Daniel Adkin · October 21, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Love the article! I never knew that this kind of information was out here in such a easily read style!

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks! We’re working hard to make information like this readily available 🙂

Ben Williams · October 21, 2019 at 2:37 pm

It’s hard to sum up my role but I guess we could put it under the catch all of software development! I do all my work from wherever I can take my laptop usually and am definitely benefitting from access to a global market. I have a few clients in a variety of places and even work with a few trusted freelancers to do the bits I can’t manage and we are all across the globe. To me it’s important to keep that human touch, despite being so far apart, I make myself available for Skype or video chat on their time, keep it light and friendly but professional and I find that balance is what keeps me in with my regular clients, who tend to recommend me for more jobs!!IL it’s thinking global and acting local!

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    In a super-competitive world, that sounds like the ideal spot to be in to me! You have a tough-to-define role that contributes value and you can do it remotely. Definitely benefiting from a global market 🙂

Benn G · October 21, 2019 at 2:39 pm

I suppose that globalisation or not, the only businesses that can’t be too affected are the good old independent arts and crafts companies. I’m nowhere near to expansion personally, but I love the tiny projects.

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    I can’t remember where I read it, but I recall somebody saying that Kickstarter, Patreon, and Indiegogo, and so on are kind of like a new patronage system. And hey, they say the patronage system of Pope Julius II led to the Sistine Chapel, so I’m good with it making a comeback!

MIke Kypriotis · October 21, 2019 at 3:18 pm

NIce stuff, need more 🙂

Connor Pearson · October 21, 2019 at 6:12 pm

Globalization is scary.

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    There are definitely some scary elements to it.

morokpl · October 21, 2019 at 8:26 pm

There are certainly both advantages and disadvantages to being small. However, I think that nowadays, with centrally managed interest rates and creeping fragility behind the market (see “Antifragile”), it is much better to stay small and agile rather than expose oneself to some unexpected factors.

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    I broadly agree with this assessment. The beauty of being small is that you can pivot quickly with the movements of the market.

Alex Savell · October 21, 2019 at 8:28 pm

I think also a difficulty of globalisation is generating character or brand for your business. In a local environment that generates more organically with local interactions and issues. But in a global marketplace making your business feel unique and also authentic is hard to do, usually needs to be consciously directed and is more likely to be similar to other alternatives.

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    I agree with you on that. I think this is why one-on-one interactions are so important. Nothing says authenticity quite like actually talking to your customers.

Emily Connolly-Leubner · October 21, 2019 at 8:44 pm

Capitalism is terrifying, lmao

    Brandon Rollins · October 21, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    It certainly can be. Capitalism makes conditions ripe for high highs and low lows.

Mavis · October 21, 2019 at 10:02 pm

Globalization is an excellent thing for small businesses. I feel like it gives them a fairer chance at not only succeeding, but thriving!

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 7:51 am

    And if definitely can! There are mighty hurdles that have to be cleared, but the beauty of completing on the world stage is that you can find an audience for stuff that would otherwise be too weird to find a market 🙂

Moe T · October 21, 2019 at 10:40 pm

As a Canadian trying to compete with the U.S. is almost impossible for so many reasons.

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 7:53 am

    I can definitely imagine that.

Aleksandra Devic · October 22, 2019 at 3:08 am

Small businesses are always on my watch list. Doesn’t have to be local either, but I feel after a while most corporations get greedy, while the ones who are starting are giving me the best product for the money.
They might not be that well tested but 9/10 times I’ll choose the small new guy next to the big one.
That’s when it counts and that’s when I want to support them.

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 7:54 am

    It feels good to buy from a company that’s just getting started, and like you said, they go out of their way to provide value.

Aleksandra Devic · October 22, 2019 at 3:16 am

As humans we value connection, that is something a big business can hardly provide.
Nothing can replace going to your place of choice, people recognising you, knowing what drink you drink, what food you eat, what games you play…
Globalisation helps with connecting the world but that genuine personal connection will hardly ever be reproduced

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Right, and the corporations recognize this too. Which is where you get hideous situations like Wendy’s and Sunny D pretending to be real people on Twitter. (That will work beautifully as a gimmick for a little while, but I don’t think Generation Z is going to fall for that.)

Chris S. · October 22, 2019 at 3:30 am

Marketing is key to all the business in the world!

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 7:56 am

    Pretty much!

Chuloopa · October 22, 2019 at 4:33 am

Overall a good article. I disagree a bit on the Loss of Local Greatness drawback, however. Many businesses (dependant on their industry, of course) can still pitch to that “local” appeal and be very successful.
Some can even use globalisation to their advantage by getting custom orders in for people that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get in before.

An excellent example of this is IGA (Independant grocer association) stores here in Australia. They are independently owned franchises who’s entire central theme is being local heroes. Globalisation (and the way the business is set up) has given them excellent economies of scale and the ability to make custom orders for goods that the big chains would nevee bring in.

Sure, for some small businesses globalisation is harsh and hard to deal with, but those that utilise it to their advantage can still be very successful while targeting “local pride”.

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 7:57 am

    This is a really thoughtful counterpoint. We have IGA in the US too, and I’ve noticed that their prices are really low but no two IGAs stay the same. Hopefully, our future will bring more business models like it.

George L. · October 22, 2019 at 7:44 am

Great article! It’s really informative and easy to understand. Keep up the good work!

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 7:57 am

    Thank you, glad you liked this post and hope you enjoy others as well!

Andrew · October 22, 2019 at 9:17 am

In tourism, the market is, almost by definition, global. But small businesses are operating with a local mindset.

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 9:25 am

    Travel is a unique market for sure. You have to reach people on a global scale (or at least regional/national), while still maintaining the unique flavor of the place you’re operating out of.

Matt H · October 22, 2019 at 11:25 am

Thanks for the article. I can definitely see the challenges to globalization, especially for small businesses and start ups when they’re up against the large, established companies. Glad you’re a part of this to help.

    Brandon Rollins · October 22, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you for reading! In our own small way, we want to help the little guys succeed in the world 🙂

Michael L · October 22, 2019 at 4:22 pm

I love the idea of the small Business “against” the globalisation and I would always prefer the small Business over the big ones like Amazon. It is much more like a good friend when you go there to buy something and they can make a community so much brighter and more colorful.

Mark P · October 22, 2019 at 7:13 pm

Small business can often be more nimble than the large companies. They can out-compete the large companies by offering customized, targeted solutions. A FLGS (tiny business) can’t compete with an OLGS (small/medium business) based on price, but they can compete by offering an environment or space for people to get together or by offering a service that the OLGS’s don’t.

Kelly · October 22, 2019 at 9:48 pm

There is just something about personal face-to-face interactions that really help support small businesses. Building relationships and seeing who the money is actually going towards is a huge selling point.

João · October 23, 2019 at 8:02 pm

Loved this info. Thanks

Lindsay · October 23, 2019 at 11:20 pm

It’s great to see ways in which small businesses can start to do really well. Thanks for brining this to our attention and for helping them with the fight!

Igor J. · October 24, 2019 at 4:35 am

Very nice read. Thanks

Felix · October 24, 2019 at 7:22 am

I am thinking of starting a small business. This is an interesting article.

    Brandon Rollins · October 24, 2019 at 7:49 am

    That’s great! What line of business are you thinking of going into?

Bernhard Maierhofer · October 24, 2019 at 3:25 pm

I came here through the Essen Scythe giveaway. Helping small businesses with their marketing challenges is an invaluable service for those wanting to carve out a name for themselves!

Ryan · October 25, 2019 at 12:02 am

Marketing is the key for small businesses to succeed. I love that they are given a more global platform to share their local businesses and attract new customers.

Nando · October 25, 2019 at 3:36 am

I think that small businesses are great, they can specify in certain things that big businesses can’t. I always prefer smaller businesses. I like the communities more, they listen more to customers and it’s nice to buy something on their site because you help a smaller business.

MGriffin · October 25, 2019 at 5:20 pm

Marketing done well can make or break a business

Sean Cummins · October 25, 2019 at 6:46 pm

I appreciate so much the focus that is put on the small town business. With big looming companies such as Amazon and Google growing bigger by the year it is extremely daunting to grow the courage to start my own business.

igor.abramovich · October 26, 2019 at 2:08 am

Great article! Lots of good pints!

Diana Narodytska · October 26, 2019 at 2:15 am

Marketing is so important! Found this read very useful! Thank you

Photograper987 · October 26, 2019 at 2:23 am

Like that you talk about small businesses. As a small business owner myself i found very difficult to compete with larger companies

Nathaniel · October 27, 2019 at 12:33 am

I also prefer to support my local board game store. The people there are so helpful and always willing to give game recommendations. Definitely can’t get that at Amazon. They are also about $10 cheap than Amazon, that is a plus. They also run events to help amateur designers get their game out there. Also. Thanks for article, thoughts to chew on as I try to get a board game out there.

Tiago Marinho · October 27, 2019 at 3:43 pm

Well, I try to support my FLGS but in Portugal the wages are much lower than other EU countries, which makes the price difference more relevant.

So it turns out that I find worth it to buy miniatures in the FLGS (freight cost from other countries become a big part of the final price) but for board games I usually look for online stores as I found a price difference of as much as 30%. It also affects my confidence in the store as I feel kind of ripped off.

Christopher W · October 27, 2019 at 5:12 pm

It’s tough. Amazon tends to be so much cheaper and easier. But local businesses are vital to local economies. I try to support them as much as possible. But it’s hard sometimes with limited funds!

Charismacheckpodcast · October 28, 2019 at 1:28 am

Great article!

Gustavo · October 28, 2019 at 1:43 am

Globalization nowadays make it possible for you to reach your target audience much easier. Social media has changed marketing forever.

Debra Branigan · October 31, 2019 at 1:25 pm

This is a timely and relevant article for any small business. The idea of competing in a globalized market is terrifying and yet can reap great rewards. Thanks for sharing.

Hannah · October 31, 2019 at 4:57 pm

This was an interesting read, really explains why small businesses are struggling and gives some advantages. If I was to be doing a business I would be reluctant to take the work out of my home country. But I can see how that would work in some situations, it would have to be for skills that I personally do not have.

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