MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Expand your business abroad

Taking your first steps into overseas markets can be easy, as long as you're careful about it, says Mike Amos.

by Mike Amos
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
With the Government keen to stimulate growth by encouraging businesses to establish trade links with overseas companies, there’s never been a better time to think about expanding your business abroad.

MT asked Mike Amos, the founder of customer feedback research company Empathica, to give us his tips on making your foray into foreign climes as smooth as possible…

1. Do some research first
Money can be wasted if you plunge into a new market without researching its potential first. Identify whether there’s a local appetite for your products or services by attending trade shows, researching local competitors and identifying any local trade associations that can assist you.

2. Consider cultural differences
When expanding into Europe, many US companies choose the UK as their starting point. But while we share a common language, both cultures tend to have different business styles. In the US, management tend to be open to ideas being pitched by vendors, whereas in the UK, access to decision makers is more restricted, making the sales cycle considerably longer. However, once contact has been migrated up to senior levels, UK businesses tend to stay loyal to suppliers.

3. Take advantage of government support and resources
Government assistance to business expansion comes in many shapes and sizes and it’s important to check out what’s available, whether it be at a regional level, or sector-related.

4. Keep one eye on the money
Make sure you raise the necessary capital to support your growth. As bank loans become more difficult to secure, businesses need to investigate a variety of funding options. Also, be aware of how currency fluctuations can affect your business costs.

5. Build a relationship
Going it alone can be a lonely journey, so consider partnering with an established local business to help gain a foothold in the market. This will cut the costs of reaching the market and save a lot of time in getting started.

6. Understand the legal system
Whether it’s employment law, contract law or commercial law, it is necessary to make sure you are appropriately knowledgeable to deliver on the business you are contracting in the country.

7. Get to grips with employment practices
Standard employment practice varies widely from country to country and it’s important employers understand local requirements, from holiday allocation through to maternity and now paternity provision.

8. Consider office location
You need to be in the right place to access the right resources for your business to flourish. Being in the middle of a country does not necessarily mean you’re at the centre of the action. Take advice, even if this comes at a premium.

9. Be an innovator
While planning and strategy are critical, it’s a fast-changing world and businesses need to stay ahead of the curve. The dynamics that can make your business irrelevant come around more quickly than ever.

10. Don’t underestimate the cost
All of the above factors and associated costs must be carefully considered before a final decision to expand is made. Entrepreneurs are known for taking risks, but they like to be better prepared than their less successful, cautious counterparts.

- Mike Amos founded Empathica in 2001. The company provides customer feedback research to retailers and food service companies, enabling them to improve customer service. He can be contacted at mamos@empathica.com.

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