Every business is different, but most — even small businesses — can profit from international expansion. Nevertheless, there are still many business owners who are reticent, or maybe don’t appreciate all the advantages and opportunities.
In order to break this barrier, I recommend this 5-Stage Plan for International Expansion. It ensures careful thought about each step of the process, so you do not rush into anything. There’s an easy get-out at every stage, so you do not risk wasting time or money. You just get an effective, well-managed, international expansion at the lowest possible cost with the fastest possible results.
Step 1 — Identify how your business can grow
That does not just mean selling more. Manufacturers and many service companies can export, and that’s great. But most businesses can reduce costs and exploit new opportunities in other countries that just can’t be had by staying at home. Transferring some activities that you currently do in your own country to a low-cost one — such as Customer Support or Accounts — can save a great amount of money and bring other collateral benefits as well. You gain the advantage of being able to hire highly skilled staff who can be difficult to find or very expensive in your own country. Every business is different — by thinking through all the different ways that your profitability and business security and value could be improved, you identify the right international expansion for you.
2 — Narrow the opportunities
Having decided what you should do, it is time to think of where you should do it. There are 195 countries in the world of which about 100 are economically viable. Don’t just consider the “usual suspects”. Look for opportunities in other countries that fewer consider. Decide which are the best countries for the specific activity that your business should perform, compare the options, and take advice from people who have actually been there and have local contacts.
3 — Translate the opportunities
Build a clear understanding of what to do and how to do it. That means developing a proper detailed Business Plan. Make sure you that the activity that will be undertaken by your new international operation fits well with your existing business. Is your expansion going to change what your company currently does? Are you going to need to hire new people? Where is the right place? Not only the right country, but the right location. And, perhaps most importantly, what are the costs? You need to be sure it is affordable and will deliver a good return on investment. Look beyond the first year — I believe in planning five years ahead.
4 — Engineer your international expansion
Professional help is useful at the first three stages, but it’s essential when it comes to putting plans into practice. A specialist will help find the right local advice to support both the start-up phase and future ongoing operation. In my experience, well-chosen smaller local firms work out better and much cheaper than the international firms you may be tempted to use. The key is to try to anticipate issues: what’s the bureaucracy, how long will it take, how much will it cost, what are the hidden costs (there could be many) and of course there are many more.
The most important factor is hiring the right people. Not only those with the right qualifications, skills and experience, but ones who, with nurturing, can become evangelists to help your company grow and expand even further.
5 — Realise the plan
Lastly, if this is your first international expansion experience, you should really not do this stage on your own. You don’t need to spend a fortune on consultancy fees. You can get some good help for free from government agencies, for example, the UK Department for International Trade. But remember that they’re only as good as the people assigned to work with you. Their attention will probably be divided, they will not take you all the way, and, at the end of the day, they often leave you back with big-fee advisors. I’m biased, of course, but I think most businesses are best served by working with professionals who can support them through all these 5 stages and who will be totally dedicated to achieving a completely successful, hassle-free expansion at minimal cost.
But whether you do it yourself or seek help, do expand internationally, because it will bring your company huge benefits and significantly increase its value. International expansion is easier than you think!
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