So you've started your company. You've nurtured and grown it, and while you're proud of your success, you know there's a big old world out there, full of potential customers who will want what you're selling. Like lots of entrepreneurs, you're ready to take on the next challenge. You're hungry for more, and you're ready to begin your company's global expansion.
There are mountains of reasons for pursuing a global expansion. But moving your company into foreign markets isn't as easy as simply ordering a language course from Rosetta Stone. You have homework to do before you can launch your plans to conquer the world.
What are some of the steps you might take before expanding internationally?
1. Identify some experts.
The fact of the matter is that lots of businesses don't make it, and there are multitudes of reasons why. It's hard enough to start a business in your native country, but when you're expanding to a foreign country, you can just start multiplying those challenges.
When I've made international business moves, I've always done it with the help of knowledgeable, generous mentors—people who've been there, done that and are willing to help me avoid their mistakes.
If I hadn't had the help of people with an insider's perspective, I don't think I'd have taken the step of expanding globally. There's great benefit in getting expert advice.
2. Decide where to start.
This step may seem simple, but it may be the single biggest decision you make in your global expansion journey.
Every country in the world brings with it unique challenges and opportunities. Just because you have a fan in New Zealand or have received an email inquiry from Moldova, doesn't mean those are your best bets for launching an international business. Selecting the first country to start your expansion can make or break your success. Choose with care.
3. Figure out your business model.
Are you planning on opening a physical location in a new country?
Will it be a standalone business or a franchise?
Are you selling goods? Services?
Are you a manufacturer? A distributor?
The answers to these questions will shape the decisions you have to make as you start your global expansion. You can certainly adapt your plans as you go, but it's wise to have some sense of what your company's business model will look like in its foreign iteration.
4. Explore legal issues.
The legal requirements of doing business internationally are a topic that could absolutely consume you. From property ownership to labor laws to taxation questions, there's no shortage of legal matters that you'll encounter.
You're going to need an experienced attorney to help you navigate those sometimes-murky international waters. You're looking at a host of laws that will have real impact on your operations, so it's wise to begin by at least defining the legal questions you may face before you get too far in your global expansion.
5. Perform market analysis.
Market analysis will certainly be part of step two (deciding which country will be your first expansion stop), but that analysis is so critical, it deserves its own baby step.
A quick-and-dirty market analysis can help you eliminate markets that aren't ideal for your global expansion. But once you begin to narrow the field down, you'll want to go more in-depth.
As you refine your plans to grow, take the time to explore the market-specific challenges you'll face. Each market has unique challenges. Try examining similar companies that have successfully reached your prospective customers and start to establish a plan to go to market.
6. Be prepared to divide your attention.
Just because you decide to expand your business into a foreign market, doesn't mean your company at home will necessarily run on autopilot.
It doesn't matter if it's at home or away: Even if you put a fantastic team in charge, you're still going to need to invest some time and energy in both locations. And let's say you don't actually work onsite in your new market. It's best to be prepared for how you'll keep your U.S. location humming along while simultaneously starting your global expansion.
I don't know any entrepreneurs who haven't at least dreamed of global expansion, even if it's just after a bourbon or two. It's inspiring to dream big, and it's great to have ambitious goals.
But there's no doubt about it: Opening your company to new foreign markets is a big venture. Being prepared and taking some baby steps to get ready for the real work ahead can help set your company up for international success.
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