When you start a small business and finally get the ball rolling and start experiencing some growth, it’s time to get out of the “startup mentality”. You are no longer the plucky underdog, you are the competitive business finding their way in the market. That means looking to future plans for how you might grow and scale in the future. One of the directions that many will seek to take is the route overseas. Many businesses want to take to the world stage and many will fail. What does it take to keep going where they fall?
Some knowledge of where you’re going
You need the first-hand experience of the country you want to move into. Take a trip over and see the market with your own eyes. Back it up with overseas market research to make sure that there’s actually room for your business. Try to be aware of the needs of the consumer of that country and whether your product might not actually appeal to them even if there aren’t competitors on the market.
A talent for translation
You have the product or service you want to take over and, if you follow the tip above, you have the market research that will help you better understand the new demographics you’re trying to reach. But do you have the brand? Your branding might work perfectly for your current market, but that doesn’t mean that a simple translation of the website and new text on old marketing materials is going to make the brand a fit for the new country. There are cultural differences, including differences in taboos, propriety, and historical significance, that can make one image or one phrase perfectly fine in one country and disastrous in another. You need more than a translation service, you need localization services to make sure you don’t make any brand faux pas.
Friends in the right places
You are going to need a new host of business partners overseas, as well. Supplier, contractors, retailers, wholesalers, IT services, so on and so forth. Everyone that your business works with back home, that’s who you’re going to need overseas, as well. It might mean repeat trips back to the country you’re hoping to expand to. Furthermore, international trade fairs can be an excellent opportunity to network. Not just with the friends you will make overseas, but other entrepreneurs who have made the same move. These potential friends could recommend or refer you to some of the services and business partners they have made.
Every country has its own laws and if you’re hoping to open your doors in that state, you need to know them. Import/export laws, business structure, tax law, health/safety, environmental laws, employment law and rights, and much more. Don’t assume you can run your business in the same way or even offer the same products and services until you have some understanding of regulations and legal responsibilities within that country. International business lawyers can help you understand the big differences between the laws you know and their comparisons overseas. Make sure that you hire legal advice that is specifically versed in the laws of that country in particular, too. You need precise advice and information, not approximates.
The big move
How do you get the resources, assets, and stock that you have at home to a new country? That’s a question you need to figure out in advance. Logistics must be a concern, whether you’re moving stock, equipment, or staff. You need to find property in advance and start thinking about transport methods. Shipping companies can be of great help and might be some of the cheapest ways to shift cargo, but using cargo plans through an air charter service can give you a more direct route over with the resources you need. You have to weigh it up: how many resources and assets are you going to have to buy anew in a new land and how much can you afford to take over yourself? Do you have to set up manufacturing processes in a new location and deal with all the new legal and employment implications with that, or will you take the added cost of creating a supply chain for your new location?
Communication, communication, communication
You might have set up an office and got your services up and running in a new land, but that doesn’t mean that your challenges are over. Once you reach the world stage, you have to prove that you’re able to handle it there. Running multiple locations across multiple countries is not the same as opening a new office in a different town or state. The priority, above all else, is maintaining open lines of communication with your global team. Beyond phone calls and emails, start creating and sharing sticky information, showing the different goals of individual teams, and be aware that your overseas counterparts aren’t always, and shouldn’t be, working with the same focuses in mind. Understand when their goals are different, why they are, how it relates to a different market, and be prepared some asymmetry. Opening an overseas arm of the business is like opening a different company. You can have some shape in the direction they take but be aware that they operate in a different world. The only way to understand it is to communicate openly, listen as much as you dictate, and visit from time to time.
Know your costs and what you need
The tips above should give you some ideas of the actions you’re going to have to take and some of the costs you need to consider. Moving overseas can always throw some unexpected curveballs at you but budget the expansion as best as you can and make sure that you had the funding and resources ready for it. It’s not something you can just wing.
There’s no denying the risk inherent with expanding your business overseas. There are some ways to mitigate that risk by looking at franchise opportunities, instead, but it’s a big move. Make sure that you’re tapping the market you have for the resources you need and spend plenty of time prepping before you make any move. Reckless expansion to new territories does not work out in business.
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