Think Global. Act Smart

How do I decide whether to go global? So far I've concentrated on North America, with great success. I worry that international expansion could cause me to lose focus.

Brian Scudamore, 1-800-Got-Junk?
Vancouver, British Columbia

The world is your oyster, but whether it gives you pearls or just sand and grit depends largely on timing. Many business owners make the mistake of jumping borders too early. For example, Lou Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Hoffman Agency, a public relations firm in San Jose, Calif., opened a Singapore office in 1996, planning to use his top client -- Hewlett-Packard -- as a passport to new markets. But Asian companies weren't impressed, and it took him a year to land a client there. He persisted, and today almost half of his revenue comes from Asia and Europe. "It's definitely made us a better company," he says.

Like any sojourner in exotic climes, you should start by getting the lay of the land. Research the market (competitors, potential customers); costs (land, labor); and the law (tariff regulations, treaties, employment rules), counsels Gregory Skoda, a consultant with Skoda, Minotti & Co., based in Mayfield Village, Ohio. Then tap a trusted executive to run the foreign office. And be patient. What with linguistic, cultural, and logistical obstacles, everything at the new outpost may take twice as long as usual to accomplish.

But first, you'll want to calculate whether it's more cost-effective to expand internationally or domestically. Sometimes, there's no place like home.

Star Search

My company needs to hire a senior executive. Where do the big corporations find their leaders?

Jack Scalfani, GiveMe Inc., Los Angeles

Small companies will likely feel scalped by headhunter fees, which run about $100,000 at top firms such as Russell Reynolds Associates in New York City or Heidrick & Struggles in Chicago. Even independent recruiters charge up to one-third of a new executive's annual salary -- an arm and a leg, if not the whole head.

A cheaper alternative is to scout the talent yourself. Forget online job boards and the soda fountain at Schwab's. Instead, cull a list of industry superstars from news archives, advises Geoff Smart, CEO of management consulting firm ghSmart. Competitors' websites are another good source (that button labeled Meet Our Management is practically an invitation to Steal Our Management). Ask clients, vendors, and business associates for referrals, of course. And generate demand by speaking to large groups at industry events and teaching a continuing education class at your local university. If you promote yourself well, the best heads will come hunting for you.

Handbook Dos and Don'ts

What policies and procedures should I include in the employee manual for my fast-growing technology company?

Tehseen Ali, Verian Technologies
Charlotte, N.C.

Start by detailing all the stuff that could get your company in trouble. Your message: Don't do that! Government websites will provide the pertinent information on state and federal statutes governing harassment, discrimination, and retaliatory policies, says Aliza Herzberg, a labor and employment lawyer at Morea & Schwartz in New York City. Also, include industry-specific faux pas, such as revealing secret software code in e-mail. Policy alone can't dam leaky intellectual property, though. Confidentiality agreements are still required.

To avoid confusion, include separate sections for full- and part-time employees outlining your company's policies on overtime pay, vacation days, and other benefits, says Jerome P. Coleman, an attorney with Nixon, Peabody in New York City. And mention -- in writing -- that just because a rule appears in writing, it doesn't mean you can't change it whenever you like.

Most important, keep it simple, says CEO Edward Sullivan, who wrote the handbook for his company, Aria Systems, a billing-software maker in Drexel Hill, Pa. Don't depress morale by loading on rules against wearing jeans or surfing the Web during lunch. Too many capricious prohibitions and you might as well slap a label on the cover: All Fun Abandon Ye Who Enter Here.

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Published on: Jan 1, 2005