The internet and the push for globalization may have made the world a smaller place, but expanding your small business’ operations into new international markets is no small undertaking. If it is not approached in the right way, your efforts to go global could severely disrupt your business activities in your home market and ultimately gut your business. To be successful, you need to go into the process with a good understanding of the targeted markets, including local tastes, trends, competition, and legislation. You also need to be clear about your business needs and goals as well as your available resources, and determine the best organizational setup to bring it all together.
That said, if you are considering taking your small business global make sure you carefully pay attention to the 6 tips below:
1. Learn about the market. The first step in entering a new market in a different country is to conduct adequate market research. Each market has its own nuances influenced by numerous economic, cultural, governmental, and market conditions. Knowing this information is vital since it will significantly affect your local business plan and strategy. Much of the information you need can probably be found online. In some cases it may make sense to hire a business consultant who is familiar with the target country and culture.
2. Create a budget. You don’t want your foreign operations to bankrupt your domestic ones. So, before you make a move you need to determine how much you can afford to invest in your international expansion. Keep in mind that your international operations may not be a real source of income for the first year or two. Will your business be able to sustain this loss without compromising operations?
3. Carefully plan the product. If you have never entered a foreign market before and you know little about that country, then it usually makes the most sense to start your operations on a small scale at first with the intention of expanding further later on. This may mean picking only one or two products to offer or opening up a small local branch. This will allow you to “test the waters” of the market before dedicating too many resources. You should also find out if any localization of the product is needed. Are there certain tastes or trends that will either enhance or deflate potential sale? Also, find out the translation of the name of your product in the local language. Some product or brand names don’t translate well, occasionally with disasterous results.
4. Learn about country-specific and international business legislation. It is extremely important that you are aware of the legal environment within each new country that you do business. Review governmental and industry-wide regulations to ensure that compliance and certifications are obtained if needed. Some countries are known for being highly litigious, so it is essential that you have solid legal processes in place to minimize unnecessary risks. Also, some government agencies have strict requirements for the legal documentation that must be obtained before being able to operate in the country.
5. Building your international team. Many companies make the mistake of going to extremes when it comes to building their country-specific workforce. Either they import too many employees from their domestic location or they rely too heavily on local talent, but don’t have the systems and training in place to maintain their business culture as well as their product and service quality and productivity. Usually, the most successful operations include some kind of combination of employees from the business’ home country with native workers.
6. Be open to cross-border alliances and partnerships. In some cases it may be best to avoid re-inventing the wheel when you enter a new foreign market. Instead, consider strategically partnering up with another company to offer complimentary products or services. You could also work with another company in a sub-contractor arrangement. Again, this will help you to test the viability of doing business in a given market, while reducing your investment and thus your risk.
In short, expanding into new global markets is a process that must be planned out carefully. If you go in with the right attitude and commit the necessarily resources to make informed decisions, then you stand the best chance of making your business expansion a success.