Passport – check, tickets – check, insurance – got your meerkat toy, business lounge card – check. There comes a point when it’s time to go international. Your idea is great and it’s going to be a global success. Revenues will increase and so will your air miles balance. All sounding good so far?
Let’s face it, it doesn’t take long for startups to become global, anything e-commerce related has a global market as soon as the pages are loaded on the server to host the website, right? Yes theoretically, but this article is for those of a B2B persuasion, and if you think merely having a website will result in huge global sales, please read on.
Grow with the right people
I am not going to start with the international marketing disasters of brands, such as the Nova not selling in Spain due to the mistranslation of its branding tagline; we have heard them all before, laughed and vowed never to make the same mistakes. Instead, we are looking at building a business from the ground up and need some practical hints. Here’s one – get the right people and you are sorted.
A few years ago, I met a trade delegation from an Estonian incubator; if you get a chance go on one of these (tweet me for some details) this is a sure-fire way to drastically reduce the risks associated with an international expansion. There were about 10 companies and the leader of the incubator and they met with a number of local tech hubs and other useful people (including myself) so the entrepreneurs could evaluate if the UK was a good place to do business, and more importantly, if there were people they could trust to do business with.
Research your potential markets
The problem with expanding into more than one country is cost. As soon as you set up somewhere, you will be incurring costs before you can generate revenue – an office, a phone line, a new set of web pages, a sales person etc. While you might like the idea of global expansion, if you don’t get a firm grip on costs, it could kill your company.
You can get stats to show how big a new market is and how much revenue it will generate for your business, but that’s still only theory. The reality is you need people on the ground who know how to get things done. (Our man in Manila will make it happen for us. Trust me). The trick is to find the right people for this; as always, use your network and/or organisations that want entrepreneurs and businesses to trade abroad. Governments and chambers of commerce are a quick and easy place to start. Don’t ignore social media to get things rolling. LinkedIn Groups can be a good place to score some quick wins.
Build a supportive network
Once you have the people in place (I know it’s not trivial), you need to provide them with a lot of support and tell them exactly what you want and understand exactly what they can deliver. I have some brilliant contacts here, who can open doors for US businesses looking to expand into the UK/Europe, but the companies have got to trust them and let them work their magic. The risk here is letting go and trusting someone else with your business. You can’t be in two places at once and you need other people in the team who can help you build the business.
Another thing to think about is if there are any international trade shows you can attend. There are some events that are global and attending one can accelerate your international expansion. Old friends or colleagues looking to live abroad may well be a very smart way to get things moving.
Look, I’m going to have to finish now – I need to dash, as my taxi is here to get me to the airport…
… and be SUPER cautious of different cultures.
Related: How to do business in the Arab World