If your business has seen successful growth in the US, it most likely will see success in other countries as well. And, you may want to lock up those markets, before some other company does.
I recently met a startup that had successfully tripled its revenues – largely from the results of a successful international expansion effort and wanted to share those learnings with all of you.
Pick your markets
There are 195 countries in the world. How do you even know where to start?
Many US companies go after the path of least resistance: In other English speaking countries, like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, typically in that order of closest to home.
While that is certainly a good strategy, a better strategy is figuring out which countries have the highest demand for your products. For example, if you’re selling into the auto industry, perhaps big auto markets like Japan and Germany may be the best place to start.
Like anything, there will be an 80/20 logic here, where 80 percent of your international sales will come from 20 percent of your international markets. So, carefully prioritize your efforts.
Pick your structure
There are many ways to take your business global, with various levels of complexity and investment. You’re going to need to decide between opening our own office overseas, leveraging key in-country distributors or striking channel partnerships with key companies that have access to your target customers, based on your goals and budgets.
And, the solutions you use in one country, may not be the same solution you use in others, depending on the challenge in those markets. For example, in China, you’ll need a local company to partner with, to help you navigate the local market.
Where you can, setting up your own efforts, either as a startup or via an acquisition of a local player, will typically exceed the results of piggy backing on the efforts of others.
Learn the local rules
Every country has different “rules of engagement”. And, when you’re getting started, it’s often helpful to engage an international expansion consulting firm, that can help you quickly learn all the local laws, regulations, accounting rules, business taxes, government taxes, employment vs contractor rules, compensation rules, privacy rules, etc.
And, don’t underestimate the downside risks from things like bribery payments, organized crime and other corruption in various countries, which you never want to partake in, or risk going to jail.
These varying rules can make the difference in deciding whether or not those markets make sense for you.
Localize your fulfillment
You’ll have to think through all the back office tasks for your business and how it will be different overseas.
Who will be answering the phones (in the local language and during local business hours), how will products be warehoused and shipped, how will you collect payments from customers, how will you process payroll payments, into which bank accounts, who is going to train your local customers, who is going to service local customers post sale, etc.
Often times, it’s like building a whole new fulfillment process from scratch.
Localize your marketing efforts
Every country has a unique culture of its own. And, you need to tailor your marketing creatives into the messaging that will most resonate with the local market and stand out against local competitors (who are most likely different companies than the ones you’re competing with in the US).
If you’re already successfully selling into global companies today, be sure to ask your US contacts at those companies for introductions to their counterparts in the countries you desire to enter.
Anyway, hope you found this high level introduction to the topic helpful. Global expansion is a really tricky topic to cover is a short post, given all its complexities by country, so be sure to surround yourself with expert consultants, lawyers and other global entrepreneurs that can help you here.