There are various points during the growth of a business that typically prove quite challenging — making the first sale, earning the first advertiser, forming the first partnership, to name a few. It all comes down to breaking new ground: doing something unprecedented, with little to no relevant experience and mostly determination and enthusiasm to get you through.
When an international business opportunity presents itself, it’s likely to be a step up in terms of challenge, presenting both literal and figurative gaps to overcome. Pass the test with flying colors and you’ll expand your skill set, impress those around you, and prime your company for exciting new deals down the line. Get it wrong, and you might be left waiting for another chance.
So how do you get it right when your business has a shot at going international? What do you need to think about? Here are some fundamental tips for nailing your strategy:
Research the target market
Doing business internationally (even in an area broadly similar to your home turf) is entering unfamiliar territory. Some things will be the same, while others will be hugely different. For instance, consumer preferences vary wildly from region to region. If you want to enter a new market and thrive, you’ll need to understand that market instead of making assumptions.
Accordingly, the first thing to do is carry out exhaustive research into the area (or areas) in which you might do business: How do people spend money? What languages are spoken? What are the most popular slang terms? (Even something like Google Trends can help you with this.) What are your likely competitors? Much of this can be done online, but to give yourself the best chance, you might want to hire some local advisors to work with you as you attempt to make the move.
Consult with experts
There are plenty of companies out there that specialize in helping businesses go through difficult transitions, and it’s definitely worth your time (and money) to find one that will provide valuable guidance. A great consultant can assist you with everything from strategy to implementation, making things much smoother.
Some companies will have specific experience working with international moves, but any good consultant will be able to handle the necessary legal elements. The differences between areas are so profound that experience isn’t always going to prove very significant. If the reviews are good and the rates are fair, go for it.
Plan the logistics
Once you know how you intend to handle the target market, and you have a good support structure behind you, start thinking about the practicalities of the move. How is the operation going to function? Will you set up new premises? If you sell products, will you extend your existing distribution network or consider a separate production and fulfilment process?
Ecommerce businesses are fortunate in this area, since they tend to have access to a lot of established connections and integrations through modern hosted systems. By hooking into local payment gateways, carrier services, translation services and tax calculators, they can start selling internationally with minimal disruption. So if you’re in that position, take full advantage of software tools. Robust APIs, ERPs and multi-location and currency options will save you time and money in the long run.
Assemble the right team
If you’re currently running a solo operation, you won’t be able to maintain that arrangement if you expand internationally. It’s simply too much work for one person to handle since optimizing your sales in a given area will realistically require you to make occasional in-person appearances to deal with varied negotiations (supply deals, co-branding, etc.).
In addition to hiring local experts, you also want someone to spearhead the operation without hugely disrupting your everyday business. After all, you need that to continue indefinitely. You might have the right person already on your team, or you may have to source some candidates. Either way, make this a priority.
Build up a war chest
Expanding internationally is inherently risky, no matter how much research and preparation you carry out. You can do everything right to give yourself a great chance of succeeding and still fail spectacularly when your new market completely rejects whatever you’re offering. People are unpredictable, and you can’t ensure your victory — but you can mitigate the risks of things going wrong.
How? By building up a war chest. In other words, enough resources to ensure a solid continuation of your business in the event that your big international move falls apart. This will give you peace of mind, allowing you to focus on marching towards success instead of worrying about the consequences of making a mistake.
International business can be incredibly lucrative and open up fascinating possibilities for new deals and partnerships, but there are no guarantees. If a great opportunity comes along, follow these steps to properly prepare, and give it everything you have.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a writer and campaign designer for MicroStartups, a website focused on helping charities and microbusinesses. After years working in the sustainability, marketing and creative industries, Kayleigh now loves to devote her time to supporting other businesses to grow and thrive. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @getmicrostarted for the latest news, tips and advice for startups and solopreneurs.
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