Go Global the Right Way: What to Do Before You Make the Leap

By Fergus Cleaver

It’s a big, wide world out there. Why not carve out some space for your business?

Even if you’re fortunate enough to do business in a big, prosperous country, expanding internationally is almost certain to grow your customer base—at least, if it’s done right.

And there’s the rub. Most international expansions fail because their architects drop the ball on the extensive planning, goal setting and scenario gaming necessary for any overseas gambit. If you’re not willing to put in more legwork than you ever thought possible—to cross your i’s, dot your t’s and pray that the chips all fall your way anyway—then it might be best to stick to your backyard.

For truly ambitious entrepreneurs, staying local isn’t an option. No matter what your company does or where it’s based, you need to do these things before you go global.

Make Sure You Have a Market

It’s every business owner’s nightmare: holding a sale that no one shows up for. To avoid this ignominious outcome, you need to do your homework—lots of it—ahead of time. Invest in local market research, analyze local and international competitors’ successes and failures, and speak with local business authorities who follow consumer tastes and trends. Remember: For every successful international expansion story, there’s a Target Canada debacle. Don’t be Target Canada.

Hire Local Talent

Buy local…talent. No matter how sharp your current team or how well you think you understand conditions on the ground in your target market, you can’t replicate a lifetime of insight or expertise. Before you go full-bore in a new country, make sure you have a solid team on the ground there—or, at least, an uber-competent local manager who can built that team from scratch.

Understand Local Rules and Regulations

It would be great if one set of business rules applied the world over, but that’s not always so. When you enter a new market, you need to be prepared to deal with a dizzying array of hard-to-understand regulations and customs. Some of these are “optional,” in that your business license won’t be revoked if you fail to follow them. Others, such as local tax regulations and labor laws, are not.

Raise Capital

You need to spend money to make money, and an overseas expansion isn’t your typical money-making endeavor. If you’re serious about doing things the right way, you’ll likely need to raise capital from your principals or investors before setting out. If this isn’t possible without overleveraging, hold off on expanding until your financial position is better.

There’s More?

You didn’t think this was all you had to do to launch your first international enterprise, did you?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As noted above, it’s imperative for anyone considering an international expansion to speak with a raft of experts—peers, mentors, home country governmental authorities, trade organizations and overseas government contacts. There’s just no shortcut to international success. Doing it right means doing it the hard way. So get ready.