Once you’ve established a successful business, it’s natural to want to expand into different markets. Particularly as nearly all of the world’s biggest companies – from Tesco to Google – operate on an international scale. Much the same as setting up a business in the first place, successfully targeting international audiences is far from easy. From local customs and colloquialisms to superstitions and humour, every region is entirely unique, making a ‘one size fits’ all approach sure to fail.
And when you take into account other considerations, such as establishing an infrastructure that can actually deal with the change, the task at hand can seem monumental.
Here’s some tried and tested advice from entrepreneurs and experts.
Expanding overseas is a huge step for your business – and one that can have serious financial consequences if you make the wrong decisions. In Management Today, Mike Amos, founder of market research company Empathica, pinpoints doing your research as one of his most important tips.
“Money can be wasted if you plunge into a new market without researching its potential first”, he says.
“Identify whether there’s a local appetite for your products or services by attending trade shows, researching local competitors and identifying any local trade associations that can assist you.”
Allen Adamson, managing director of marketing firm Landor and author of BrandSimple, also recommends getting to know the local marketplace and identifying, “Who’s there? Who’s winning? (And)Who’s losing?”, before taking the plunge.
Localise your Pitch
In an article for Entrepreneur, Christian Gaiser, CEO of Bonial International Group, a global alliance of companies providing location-based comparison shopping services to consumers, retailers and manufacturers, highlights the importance of adjusting your business pitch to meet local standards.
“Regardless of however you’ve sold your business previously when entering a new market in a new location, the pitch needs to be adjusted to meet local standards”, he says.
“That could mean tweaking either content or format and beyond. In some cases, a massive overhaul might even be required to make your presentation successful.”
From the importance of relationship building in Thailand to avoiding the word ‘no’ in India, business etiquette varies dramatically around the world – something that our Culture Guide for International Business indicates. Fail to take these difference into account in your pitch, and you risk losing out to local competitors.
In March 2000, Coca-Cola launched it’s ‘think local, act local’ marketing strategy. Why? Because their global brand strategies had alienated local consumers and this, in part, was due to their centralised decision making, which didn’t give local managers the power to make changes based on local knowledge.
In Entrepreneur, Adi Vaxman, co-founder and CEO of Tripda, a carpooling platform, pinpointed not designating a remote decision maker as one of the biggest international expansion mistakes.
“Organisations must give local-market teams the authority to execute decisions to the best of their abilities while continuing to be closely involved,” she says.
“To allow a local team to thrive, the office needs strong leadership to make decisions. Hire a point person to make tough calls and establish clear expectations of when that decision maker has full authority and when he or she should consult upper management across seas.”
Strong Support Network
Your first tentative steps into an international market can be nerve-racking – and when you know little about the area, its regulations and language, you need all the support you can get.
“When working outside your home market, you’re exposed to new risks,” says Sophi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate in the Guardian. “Use all the support and advice at your disposal. Training staff or recruiting specialists can support the business internally, and externally it is important to ensure you have sought specific expertise, particularly with regards to compliance, which can be complicated and is vital to get right.”
Matt Kepple, CEO of Makerble, also recommends seeking specialist advice:
“Touch base with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI): the government body organised the trade missions which took us to Singapore and New York…Getting the visas right is important when you’re setting up overseas and knowing whether you need to incorporate a new business entity in that country is key.”
Maintain Your Core Values
Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business. Essentially, it makes a promise to your customers telling them what they can expect from you and differentiating you from your competitors.
If you’re operating overseas, you need to adapt to fit in with local culture – but that doesn’t mean abandoning your core values or what makes you unique.
In an article for Business News Daily, Jim Rogers, chief marketing officer for the Tony Roma’s restaurant franchise notes that it’s often necessary to adjust your product or services, whilst remaining true to your overall brand.
“[Allow for] appropriate localisation and flexibility to adhere to local customs and customer needs,” he says, “One of the key areas to adjust is with [material] sourcing. If you can maintain quality, local sourcing has the opportunity to improve cost margins and supply-chain reliability.”
Expanding your business internationally is challenging but if you get it right, the rewards far outweigh the risks. With careful planning and expert advice, you can make sure your overseas venture is a success.