The heart of tech is coming to the heart of the Mediterranean. Join TNW in Valencia this March 🇪🇸

This article was published on May 4, 2017

5 common international expansion mistakes and how to avoid them

5 common international expansion mistakes and how to avoid them
Amber Leigh Turner
Story by

Amber Leigh Turner

Owner and Creative Director of January Creative

Owner and Creative Director of January Creative in Nashville, Tennessee, Amber has been a self-employed graphic and web designer for over ei Owner and Creative Director of January Creative in Nashville, Tennessee, Amber has been a self-employed graphic and web designer for over eight years, starting early in her collegiate career. Amber has a unique passion for not only all things design, but all things business as well. Freelancing as a student gave Amber an opportunity to write a student freelancing book, appropriately named Students Freelancing 101: A Start to Finish Course to Becoming a Student Freelancing, to help other students who want to start freelancing. Follow her on Twitter. Email her at

For most businesses, the goal is to grow and expand. Most, if not all, of the work done so that growth can continue and accelerate over time. As such, businesses and entrepreneurs may find themselves wanting to expand into more marketplaces.

However, in the process of expanding, it’s possible for entrepreneurs to make mistakes along the way. Those mistakes seem to be more common and happen more frequently as small businesses take their goods and services outside of their home country and broaden internationally.

While some obstacles and mistakes can be overcome, others could have detrimental if not business-ending consequences. Depending on laws and regulations in certain areas, certain errors made on an international or global level could land you in jail.

So what are the most common mistakes that business owners and entrepreneurs who are looking to expand internationally make, and how can someone who’s in a similar phase of their business prevent the same blunders?

Expansion for the wrong reason

While it’s very possible to go global with a small business, it may not be the right fit for a plethora of reasons.

Businesses looking to make a quick buck shouldn’t expand. But those that are patient, plan for gradual growth overseas and are prepared to take their time may reap benefits. Global expansion is a long-term investment, not a get rich quick scheme.

It’s imperative that you assess your company’s readiness and commitment to going global. Ask yourself the following:

  • Is the management team committed and ready to meet global challenges?
  • Does the company have a flexible organizational structure that can adapt to new markets?
  • Does the company have the financial and structural stability to sustain international growth?
  • Do you have the available resources and staff to focus on global expansion while still maintaining your current domestic customer base?

Not having a plan in place

As exciting as it is to want to expand internationally to meet a demand, rush or blitz the market, or just to beat out your competitors, doing so without a plan in place could keep you at the starting line. When a business takes care of the necessary prep work, they arrive better prepared and can better handle the obstacles that may come their way.

It may even be worth having plans for different countries, should you find that each country or region you are expanding to has drastically different needs, markets, laws, and concerns. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all (market) formula.

Studying the market and having a plan in place is what Allen Adamson, managing director of the marketing firm Landor and author of BrandSimple says, “Look at the marketplace you want to go into. Who’s there? Who’s winning? Who’s losing?”

Additionally, you should evaluate the following and devote the proper resources to:

  • Readiness: Is your company ready to expand? What are your main weaknesses?
  • Resources: What kind of operational and organizational processes do you need to put in place? Do you have the necessary managerial skills?
  • Finances: How will you finance your expansion? What kind of return are you expecting and when?
  • Research: Is there demand for your product in the foreign market? What elements make certain markets more attractive to your company?

Being cheap when it comes to talent

While you may be tempted to hire young, inexperienced workers simply because your budget is tight and you can pay them less. But avoid this at all costs. Hiring skilled workers is not the place to cut corners.

Talent is an investment so be willing to pay accordingly. Hire the absolute best person possible to lead your business to success in new markets.

Hiring local talent to manage the team, instead of promoting employees without relevant experience, can also lead the venture to success. Local professionals will have a better idea of what customers want and are in a better position to listen to and understand their needs.

Additionally, for 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 they should consult upper management across the sea.

Failing to get expert advice

Few entrepreneurs possess all of the knowledge and skills required to lead their companies into a global expansion, so it goes without saying that when you’re wanting to expand into areas you’re unfamiliar with, you should seek advice.

While expert advice isn’t cheap, it pales in comparison to the costs, missed opportunities and damage to the corporate psyche and reputation caused by failed first attempts or other possible debacles.

Sophi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate explains, “When working outside your home market, you’re exposed to new risks. Use all the support and advice at your disposal.

Training staff or recruiting specialists can support the business internally, and externally it’s important to ensure you have sought specific expertise, particularly with regards to compliance, which can be complicated and is vital to get right.”

Not taking local culture and preferences into account

Beyond general market research, many businesses and entrepreneurs don’t bother to investigate local marketing channels, consumer behavior, or product preferences. Cultural norms vary and it’s important to consider how you’ll adapt to various differences.

When businesses aim to expand internationally, not taking time to adequately research local culture and product preferences could make or break your strategy. And remember, customer needs vary from country to country.

Some basic questions to consider:

  • How does your brand translate globally?
  • What is the proper local business etiquette?
  • What are the local product standards and requirements?
  • Does my product or service have the ability to be adapted to this new market?
  • Do I truly understand the new demographic’s buying patterns?


As global expansion becomes more important, businesses and entrepreneurs can gain a competitive advantage by targeting the right international markets and adapting their products and strategies to appeal to local customers.

With proper planning and preparation, international markets can offer numerous opportunities for your company. Just be sure to avoid these pitfalls.

For more information on global expansion, visit TMF Group’s World Domination page.