Reaching the stage at which you can justify expansion is a sure sign of success for any organization. But with business expansion comes a particular set of challenges, especially if you’re expanding internationally.
It’s one thing to know your domestic market inside out, but it can be difficult to anticipate how even minor differences in the culture and consumer habits of your new location will impact upon your business.
Often you won’t discover these things until you’re already in operation, so it’s important to know of the common pitfalls associated with international expansion so you can avoid, or at least mitigate, the impact they will have on revenue. The reality is that international expansion can often involve a lot of hard work for very little payoff, and the statistics that back this up are pretty conclusive.
In a study originally published in the Harvard Business Review, it was found, when analyzing 20,000 companies across 30 countries, that organizations selling abroad typically experienced an average Return on Assets of -1% for as long as five years after the initial international expansion. It actually took the majority of those businesses up to 10 years to see any return at all.
To be an instant success when expanding internationally, you will need to be exceptional—both statistically and in terms of performance. There isn’t a sure-fire recipe for success, but we’ve found that abiding by the following principles has enabled a gentle transition to doing business in new countries, and kept risk factors to a minimum throughout.
Stay true to your roots
There’s a reason your business has enjoyed success, and you may have ideas on how to replicate this success in a new territory, but it’s important that you don’t become set in your ways. What worked in your domestic market may not work internationally, so start seeing your expansion as less of a duplication and more of an opportunity to take on a new market from the ground up, using your past success to inform decisions and give you the competitive edge that start-ups won’t have.
Try to get in touch with your original business ethos; what was it you initially set out to achieve, and how did this drive your brand identity and values? If you can follow the same mission statement, you won’t necessarily end up with the same end product, as all the variables are different, but you will be building your new business upon the same principles that have served you well thus far. While you will have to compromise on operational differences, your driving principles should never change.
Following the same mission statement also ensures you retain your brand values throughout the expansion. This will translate in everything from internal communication to servicing customers, so the importance of consistency should not be underestimated. This is also an attractive prospect for investors, who are more likely to place their faith in an organization that sticks to its mantra regardless of the challenge at hand.
Technology is your friend
One of the biggest challenges a business can face when opening new offices around the world is communication. Often teams, especially when working in different time zones, will experience diluted communication that will either compromise on the quality of service customers are receiving, or put a dent in staff morale. Fortunately, modern technology can all but eradicate this problem.
First of all, think about basic communication. Telephone and conference calls are great, but what if you want to make a permanent record of the communication, or are explaining complicated concepts and need to refer to sources? You’ll need a robust email service with good security and remote access capabilities. You should also think about implementing instant messaging so teams have the option to communicate quickly and informally if required.
Accessing documents can also be a challenge for international teams, as you’ll no longer be able to rely on your local network for file storage. Being able to store all essential documents in the cloud will ensure one central location from which your teams can work. If you can find a way to deploy your email and cloud services in conjunction, you will also benefit from single sign-on verification, which is not only convenient for your staff but will also improve platform security.
Invest in the best local talent
If you’ve identified a location for expansion, the likelihood is you’ll have already researched factors such as cost of living, depth of the market, and the need for your services in the local area. You can’t be expected to know everything, however, and this is where investing in local talent can be extremely valuable.
You may be lucky enough to have a few members of staff who are willing to relocate and get your new office off to a strong start, but you’ll also need to fill your workforce with candidates already residing in that region, and this can work to your advantage. Work with a local or market-specialist recruiter, or research businesses in similar industries to identify staff you could approach. You’re looking for a mixture of talent, experience, and local expertise, and so there’s nobody more valuable than those working for your competitors in the area.
Sunny Ackerman is President of Americas at Frank Recruitment Group. A veteran of the staffing industry, Sunny has assisted with the opening of new offices in Tampa, Denver, and Scottsdale in the last year alone. While international expansion is by no means easy, Frank Recruitment Group has managed to increase its financial turnover by 42% while opening new offices worldwide. Our ambitious growth strategy has facilitated the opening of six new offices in 2018 alone, and by following the guiding principles detailed in this article, I’m confident that we can continue to build upon this success in new territories worldwide.