Businesses looking to expand and dominate an industry need to compete on an international scale. But competing on this level, with businesses all around the world, is harder than ever.
There are many factors to consider. What are the biggest challenges of international competition you need to account for? And how do you account for them? Here’s what you need to know.
Travel Costs and Logistics
First, you need to recognize that travel costs are higher than ever, and coordinating travel to different countries for research, new partnerships, or other organizational goals can be challenging. It’s especially difficult when you’re trying to retain your previous professional responsibilities while expanding your business in new territory.
Fortunately, there are some positive developments when it comes to travel costs and logistics. New programs, like the UK ETA, are designed to make it easier to get the travel authorization you need to travel to different countries. The UK ETA won’t be launching in full until 2024, but the U.S. visa waiver program on which it’s based is already streamlining travel between developed countries.
You can also mitigate this challenge by traveling strategically. Instead of hopping on a plane every time there’s a problem to solve, you can rely heavily on remote collaboration if you have the right tools in place.
Cultural barriers can stand in your way on multiple fronts—and in ways far more detrimental than having your kind hand gesture interpreted as a rude one.
If you’re not familiar with another culture, you’re going to have problems expanding your business into it. You won’t understand the local audience, so you won’t be able to relate to them. Your organizational culture also may not translate well into this new environment. You may have a harder time recruiting employees or getting them to conform to your standards in the new location.
The correct way to approach this challenge is with a two-pronged strategy. First, you need to educate yourself and truly immerse yourself in another culture so you can gain a better understanding of it. Second, you need to remain flexible and adaptable; business owners are much better off adapting to another culture, rather than attempting to change the culture or ignore the cultural differences entirely.
Demographic Research and Marketing
Bringing your business to a new area means marketing your business to new people. And that means digging deep into demographic research.
You can mostly use the same tactics across many different locations. Surveys, focus groups, and experimental designs can tell you everything you need to know about how members of a given community will respond to your marketing ideas. However, coming up with those ideas is particularly challenging if you’re not immersed and experienced in the culture you’re targeting.
Here, your best strategy is recruiting locals for better marketing brainstorming and fine tuning. In other words, find someone who “speaks the language,” both literally and figuratively.
Extra Taxes, Fees, Tariffs, and General Costs
Expanding your business internationally is both expensive and complicated, thanks to things like taxes, fees, tariffs, and increased logistical costs. If you don’t have a plan for how to manage these additional expenses, you probably aren’t ready for international expansion.
There are lots of things you can do to simplify and streamline things here. Consider establishing strategic partnerships or joint ventures with local companies in the target country as an example. By collaborating with an established local partner, you can leverage their existing infrastructure, distribution channels, and knowledge of the local market. Of course, entering into a joint venture requires careful consideration and due diligence, so do your research first.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to avoid taxes, tariffs, and laws in other countries. But you can hire a good lawyer and a good financial adviser to help you navigate this terrain effectively.
Human Resources and Organizational Identity
The bigger a business grows, the harder it is to maintain a consistent organizational culture. If your business grows to international levels, maintaining that culture is going to be even harder, since you’ll have people from multiple backgrounds working at different branches.
There are a few different strategies that can work here. If you want to keep your culture ironclad and consistent, you can spend more time and effort on recruiting and team building. If you’re more flexible, you can allow your organizational culture to be strategically compartmentalized; team members of remote locations can be given autonomy to make some decisions for themselves.
General Strategies for Success
These additional, general strategies can also help you become successful in this especially challenging era:
Choose the Right Countries
One of your most important strategic objectives is going to be choosing the right country. After all, different countries are going to present different challenges. Choosing a country with cultural similarities and no language barrier can instantly make international expansion easier. And of course, some countries are more business friendly than others.
Don’t try to expand your company into a dozen new countries right away. Start with one, and pace yourself to avoid overspending.
Encourage Autonomy and Segmented Independence
For most businesses, the best path to stable, international expansion is encouraging autonomy and segmented independence. In other words, treat separate locations as separate, hire people you trust, and let your people make their own decisions whenever possible.
Be Ready to Adapt
Expansion probably isn’t going to be a perfectly smooth process. You’ll need to be ready to adapt your plans at a moment’s notice.
Somehow, expanding a business internationally is both easier and harder than it’s ever been before. Collaborating with people across an ocean is trivially easy, but connecting with them culturally and remaining financially stable is much harder. Still, with enough forethought, research, and proactive effort, you can scale up your business with minimal friction.