When I was expanding my business to Germany, I was scared I'd fall victim and fail like many who had gone before.
Still, the allure of the unknown is littered with traps that can take down an organization if it isn't careful. Thankfully, I tapped into my current clients with offices abroad who made key introductions that allowed me to lay a foundation internationally.
I realized leveraging the contacts and experiences I already had was an important step in growth.
Here are eight steps you can take to successfully expand your business:
Do your homework.
Before doing anything, you need to assess the market potential in the particular areas of the world that you're interested in expanding to. So, talk to people who have done it before and learn from their mistakes.
Reach out to ex-patriates who have spent time in those countries and ask about their challenges. Then carve out what customer base makes sense for you logistically and culturally.
Pinpoint your market.
Once you get your data, make a decision about what markets are the right fit for your business. Don't try to go too big or start with too many. Stick with one or two areas and learn everything you can about those markets and customer needs.
My relationships with clients Siemens and Gillette were instrumental in expanding my customer base to Germany. And, they were in my own backyard on the West coast!
We live in a diverse country and chances are you already know people who can give you information about your target market. And, a bonus, because they have perspectives from working in the U.S. and the other countries, they can offer unique insight into what challenges you may encounter.
Get an introduction.
Those same people who can give you invaluable information can also make critical introductions to help you carve inroads into your target market. Ask people in your industry if they know anyone that can help you. And, in some countries like China where trust is built on relationships, third-party introductions can go a long way.
Tap into the chambers.
There are always business chambers of commerce of some sort in countries, so this should be your first stop in understanding the possibilities and limitations of the market.
Chambers can tell you how much government influence there will be, what legalities are at play for creating business opportunities, and how much help you may need from consultants. They can also connect you with key vendors such as lawyers, real estate agents, or insurance agents.
Enlist the help of the local consulate or embassy.
These offices can clue you in as to the political landscape of the area. For example, in South Africa, if you don't show the government that you're interested in benefiting the community or society, there's a chance they won't be supportive of your venture.
Work with economic development agencies.
In countries like Germany (particularly in small towns), they have local economic development offices that can shed light on important information like tax incentives or labor laws.
These offices are interested in stimulating the local economy so they want you to succeed. They can tell you what you need in order to get tax breaks and hire the right people.
Hire local consultants.
Local consultants could be the gatekeeper for everything essential in expanding abroad--all the information you need to know and the people you need to meet.
They can even create a sophisticated market entry strategy for you to follow and show to potential investors. An example of such a group who works for foreign investment coming into the U.S. is the US Market Access Center in Silicon Valley.
Many organizations fail to expand abroad because they don't study up. They don't learn about who they might be serving and the rules they must abide by.
Find out everything you can about your target market, then take a leap.