By Salvador Ordorica, CEO of The Spanish Group LLC, a first-class international translation service that translates over 90 languages.
As a small business owner, you are likely laser-focused on growing your brand and market share in your home country; however, by looking outside your borders, you can find unique opportunities that may not be available to you otherwise.
Seeking international growth is challenging, but it can offer a huge variety of benefits, including extending the sales life of your existing products, reducing your dependence on a single market’s health and providing near limitless potential for growth and expansion. At the same time, the money and effort required to take a brand global represent a significant investment, and success is far from guaranteed.
As a small business owner who has broken into multiple global markets, I would like to use this article to help present some of the biggest lessons I have learned over the last decade. The following are the top five pieces of advice I wish I had known before taking the jump into overseas markets.
1. Perform exhaustive research on your prospective market.
This may seem like an obvious point, but you would be surprised to learn how often even the largest corporations fail to do their due diligence before trying to expand overseas. You need to do a deep dive into the local culture, how it plays into your industry, how big the prospective market is and a dozen other necessary data points.
At the very least, you need to do a market segmentation analysis, a gap analysis, a SWOT analysis and consult closely with native professionals who intimately understand your industry and the current state of the overseas market. You will likely need to adapt many of your strategies, and perhaps even future product designs, to match local and regional methodologies that are proven to work. The only way to do this is to have deep insights into the market you are entering. Use your research to set short-term and long-term goals, objectives and success metrics.
2. Lay the foundation before your arrival.
Your brand only has one opportunity to make a first impression, and you don’t want your new customer base seeing you struggle with fundamental issues. You need to ensure you have the necessary resources and contingencies in place before you open the doors. Have contacts and workarounds ready when you discover that there is a hitch in your current plan. For example, perhaps a local supplier is unreliable or your existing structure is not meeting compliance regulations.
You want to have a trained and responsible team ready on day one. Using executives from your parent company or building an entirely local team from scratch both have their benefits and drawbacks, and you will need to decide which makes the most sense for what you are trying to accomplish. Many lean heavily on outsourcing as much as possible to local service providers and to use senior interim executives. Interim executives and local providers can help you plug the holes in your strategy while continuing the recruiting process and building your permanent leadership team.
3. Expand slowly with a well-built MVP.
You want to enter foreign markets with a functional, attractive and desirable minimum viable product (MVP). Grow out your offerings and how you do business based on the feedback you are getting with the MVP and initial launch. Ensure you are listening to, and acting on, the data you are getting back. Take it slow and grow strategically; this will ensure your investment. Risk is minimal while your chances for long-term success are high.
4. Master the language and build local relations.
This is another one that seems obvious on the surface but can lead to many unforeseen issues if not properly managed. Effective language skills go well beyond simply being able to translate documents from one language to another. Just as you hire specialized copywriters to create your messaging in English, you will need experienced and trained professionals to translate and recreate your messaging into a new language. Metaphors, figures of speech and analogies will often not translate directly between cultures and languages, and how your new target market speaks will often be inherently different from the one in your home region.
You need language experts who can transcreate — that is, they can take the meaning and intention of your original message and recreate it in another language, with the same purpose. Working with specialized translation services or taking on native experts in the region is key to overcoming these barriers.
You will also want to integrate into the local culture and supply chains as much as possible. Doing this will ingratiate yourself to the locals, build out your versatility and ability to adapt, and help you better understand your next strategic steps. In many ways, these relationships can be just as valuable as taking on high-level consultants.
5. Work on your organizational, legal and financial readiness.
This simply means you have ensured you are prepared to handle a new region’s cultural, legal and tax challenges. At the organizational level, you need to ensure you are ready to operate in the new territory. Create compensation packages and benefits programs that are compatible with local standards and customs, as well as policies, procedures and manuals that meet the needs of the new region and mesh with your company’s culture.
For legal and financial readiness, this entails a great deal of preparation for the more litigious economies, such as needing to create a large amount of documentation in multiple languages. Payroll, accounting and tax issues are often outsourced in the beginning to avoid your operations getting bogged down in the minutia.
Going global requires determination.
Launching a new arm of your business is risky, and not for the faint of heart, but the rewards for pulling it off well will often include exponential growth. Take it slow, do your research and plan for every possible contingency. At that point, you may just be ready to become an international brand.