Expanding into foreign markets is a massive undertaking, involving unfamiliar laws, cultural differences and often language challenges. But there's no shortage of resources when you're considering taking your business to the rest of the world through an international expansion.
You can find experienced mentors or even hire advisers to help guide you through the process of international expansion. But simply checking off boxes to comply with laws isn't enough.
In addition to all of the obvious work you'll have to do to go global, there are lots of other questions you may face. And while these questions may not have black-and-white answers like your legal hurdles, they're important nonetheless.
Before I began my international expansion, here are some of the questions I asked myself.
1. Will my brand identity change?
International expansion can have a profound impact on your company's brand, both at home and abroad. For example, if you're opening a retail shop in another country, you might choose to emphasize your American-ness. Or you might decide to blend in, changing your company's image to look more like its established local competitors.
Likewise, once you've gone global, you can promote your U.S. operations as part of a global company—one with a bigger footprint and more diverse appeal. Doing business in a foreign market will inevitably change your company, and I've discovered that it's best to make those changes deliberately, with a constant eye on brand building.
2. Where do I enjoy traveling?
Sure, business decisions can't always be based on where you'd like to take your family on vacation. But there's no reason on earth why you can't factor in your climate, language and cultural affinities when you're beginning your international expansion.
Assuming you'll be visiting your foreign markets, sometimes for long periods of time, why not open up shop in a place you'll enjoy?
If you crave constant sunshine, exotic foods and tropical weather, Scotland might not be your first choice for international expansion. If you're terrified to fly, think exotic dining means putting Dijon mustard on your hamburger and hate heat and humidity, then Vietnam probably isn't a great choice for opening a new company. Think about where you'd like to go and would enjoy spending time.
3. Do I need to adjust my offering?
Quite simply, what works in one country might not work in another.
You may discover new patterns in busy and slow times of the year (which can actually be a great way to even out revenue overall). You might find that your irreverent, attention-getting marketing that captivates your American consumers doesn't play well in China. Items that are popular in one country might languish on the shelf in another.
Cultural norms, holidays and language differences all can affect how your international expansion fares—and success or failure can be determined by your ability to respond to market demands by tweaking your goods or services.
4. How will the new market affect overall logistics?
Expanding from operations in one country to operations in two countries doesn't simply double your logistical concerns. It's an exponential increase.
Will you hire someone in the foreign market to manage affairs?
Will you temporarily relocate to manage things yourself?
Will time differences make it difficult to regularly communicate via phone or Skype?
For a company that manufactures products, will you be shifting all of your production to a new country? How will that affect your lead time? Your shipping costs?
Every single decision you make for an international expansion carries logistical implications. It's wise to try to anticipate the changes you'll need to make to accommodate your company as it expands into foreign markets.
5. How will my HR needs change?
Obviously, you're going to need more employees if you're opening up a new market.
But will your foreign operations be run by local residents or your American employees?
What labor laws do you need to follow?
What new skills will your employees need to acquire?
Are there new roles you need to fill?
Anticipating hiring and training needs can help you adapt more rapidly to changing needs during an international expansion.
Let's be honest. You're never going to be able to anticipate every single challenge you'll face when you embark on international expansion. But that shouldn't stop you from expanding or from trying to anticipate what you can. Having plans in place can help you and your staff be ready to seize opportunities and overcome obstacles as you begin an exciting new entrepreneurial chapter.
Read more articles to planning for growth.