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The International Entrepreneur -Are Your Outsourcing Resources Ready for International?

The International Entrepreneur Asks Are Your Outsourcing Resources Ready for International?
Today’s companies tend to be leaner and more agile than those in years past. They often have to be in order to grow at a rate fast enough to secure the next round of funding or attract the right acquiring firm. How we do business has fundamentally changed to where many company functions like legal, accounting, HR and marketing can be outsourced to a large degree. But what happens when a company decides to enter international markets? Are these BPOs ready to join you on your international business expansion?

Here are some questions to ask your company’s law firm, accounting firm, marketing agency, bank, payroll service and any other business process outsourcing (BPO) providers:

  • Do you have any offices or partners in the markets we are planning to enter?
    If your home market is small like Singapore or Luxembourg, then likely any outside resources are well connected to the rest of the world. They have to be. For larger markets like the U.S. or Brazil, your local bank may not have the international connections or in-house expertise international currency and finance that you’ll need.
  • Are you able to serve staff based overseas with sound advice and similar services in international markets?
    Payroll is a great example of where this applies. Most payroll outsourcing companies choose to serve only their home market. But there are a handful of international payroll companies that handle the complexities of payroll around the world to help keep your company in compliance.
  • Do the contacts that you work with have international experience?
    Sometimes a law firm or accounting firm has the ability to extend to other parts of the world through sister offices or partner firms. But often when a company shifts from one market to global markets, the staff who serve the company may need to change to the more internationally experienced resources.

For all of your company’s business functions directly affected by the international expansion, you can decide between two approaches: Centralized and Decentralized Outsourcing.

Centralized Outsourcing is when your BPO resource has an extensive network of staff or trusted partners in all of your markets. The largest accounting firms fall into this category. And it helps to have one cohesive approach to accounting that leverages the specialized knowledge that these firms typically have in areas like international taxation.

Decentralized Outsourcing makes sense when in-country resources have the best perspective. This is often the case with marketing agencies. If I’m going to concentrate on the German market because I know that German businesses desperately want and need my product, then I should hire a marketing agency based in Germany to spearhead my marketing program there.

Some additional advice:

  • Be sure to ask specific questions of your service providers to learn their fuller international capabilities.
  • Don’t contort around a business relationship to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Yes, the company founder’s best friend may have done the accounting for the last five years, but unless his firm can handle all of your transactions, currencies and tax reporting, it?s time to move to a fuller service firm.
  • Generally, companies keep all processes tied to their value chain in-house rather than outsourcing them. With keeping that in mind, some companies also choose to redefine their value chain altogether to fit what they actually do best. That’s at least food for thought!

I hope you found this article helpful. If you would like to receive additional tools and tips starting with a Market Entry Checklist, please click here.

The International Entrepreneur – 5 False Assumptions That Can Hold You Back from Global Success

international assumptions, international business, international marketing

 

I have been fortunate these past 10 years to mentor a promising international marketing professional. “Quinn” recently went back to university to complete his international MBA. He just accepted a position in Tennessee where he will be building international channels from the ground up in B2B & B2C markets. It’s an exciting opportunity for anyone in our field of international marketing.

Quinn knew where to start when he was hired last month. He worked with engineering to define the product changes required in order to meet international standards (CE, etc.). He developed a selection criteria to pick the right early international markets where the company would focus resources (UAE, Mexico & Australia). He identified a freight forwarder who will provide the right kinds of logistic support. And he started to identify opportunities to meet the right kinds of in-country partners to facilitate business deals and new client acquisition. Quinn seems to be on the right track towards providing a solid foundation to his international expansion.

But others are often not so fortunate. What is much more common to find are one or more of the following false assumptions underlying early-stage expansion decision making. A failed international expansion can scare a company’s leadership for years away from what should be lucrative international markets.

 

Assumption #1: We are focusing on the right markets.

To get to the heart of where this assumption can steer leaders astray, ask the question: How did we come to decide on which countries to expand to first? In Quinn’s case some of the main factors were: one or more hot weather seasons and markets that could serve as a gateway to a larger region. Mexico is a great entry country to Latin America and the Caribbean. The UAE is closely economically linked to the rest of the Middle East. And Australia has New Zealand and Southeast Asia as neighboring trade partners.

Often companies instead choose countries where they have a contact or is a key staff member’s country of origin. Companies might follow a language to markets that really don’t make sense based on a more strategic criteria that focuses on long-term profitability.

 

Assumption #2: Our staff is ready to engage with international clients and partners.

To find out if your staff is ready, start with questions like: Who on staff has experience working with international clients? How does staff feel about taking on international clients? While the international expansion leader may be excited about his role, this does not mean that others share his background or attitudes.

Be sure that staff hear about the importance of the international expansion from company leaders. Informally, the international expansion leader should be having conversations to hear any concerns or questions from colleagues. After all, there is nothing worse than generating international sales leads only to have sales reps quietly leave international calls unreturned.

 

Assumption #3: Business moves at the same speed everywhere.

In my home country, the U.S., we typically create partnerships and close sales deals faster than in other countries. Now before you pat yourselves on the backs about our superior business skills and efficiency, please understand that this does not mean that ours are always well-built deals. In fact, misunderstandings and untrusting partners are far less likely to yield the same long-term profitability.

You can ask yourself, Does my entire leadership team understand that the international expansion will move slower than we may be used to in our home market? Am I willing to invest in direct professional relationships including in-person visits to solidify and maintain strong and successful business ties?

 

Assumption #4: The same rules apply everywhere.

Definitely no. This is one of the biggest challenges in international business. The rules most definitely change based on country and local market. Rules that change include product standards, packaging requirements, forbidden marketing tactics, expectations of gifts, and how local businesspeople conduct themselves.

To prepare for these new rules, definitely do your research before that first contact. There are many sources of culture and legal information available online. There are also consultants who specialize in a particular region or country who can help.

 

Assumption #5: We already have all the answers.

There are international business professionals who spend a great deal of time staying current on how to do business effectively around the world. And they don’t even have all of the answers. What the great ones have is a strong network of resources who specialize in areas of international business and geographic regions.

As a company leader, ask yourself: what do we need to know in order to be successful and lower our exposure to risk? What areas are we already experiencing challenges? Again, you can save budget by doing online research with reputable sources or else hire competent international expansion specialists.

Either way, your company will be much better positioned to reach its full global potential!

 

I hope you found this article useful. For more Tips and Tools from Becky Park, The International Entrepreneur, sign up here.

The International Entrepreneur- How to Engage the Right International Network Connectors

business networking, international trade, international entrepreneur, International network connections can be the oil that lubricates the international business engine and allows the machine to move efficiently forward. The right overseas introduction at the right time can propel a company forward into a strategic relationship or a high-value client. Without those introductions, you feel like that high school student who never gets asked to the dance: under appreciated, awkward and never able to live up to your full potential.

The truth is that networking is an inherently messy, disorganized business. Finding the right connections can be quite tricky. Much time can be wasted trying to meet the right potential Brazilian client and British partner. For now business relationships in most parts of the world are built on direct peer-to-peer relationships and trust built those individuals. That is different than in the U.S, Germany, Australia and other business environments where contracts are the foundation of all working partnerships and transactions. Most of Asian, African and Latin American business builds on direct relationships instead.

You have probably observed that some people are just inherently better at networking than others. You may even know a few of these “super connectors” who seem to know just about everyone. I have seen two types- the super connectors who trade introductions almost like currency and those who have a larger agenda to promote other services or even the success of their region. A great example of the latter type is super connector Arlene Marom. Based in Tel Aviv, Arlene is deeply networked into the Israeli tech community. She also networks in Europe and North America to both find her own clients for marketing services and to connect Israeli companies with international markets.

 

As a company leader, here are some ways that you can engage with the right international connectors:

Reach out and start asking smart questions

I normally ask industry contacts, who do you think I should talk to about doing business in Country X? Sometimes I go through a few referrals before I find that well-connected resource. But even the well connected can have ulterior motives. Be sure to get third party validation that your super connector has a solid reputation. Then keep asking questions to learn how to do business in this new environment and who the right people are to know.

Respect the Networker’s Role & Reputation

When a network connector makes an introduction for you, they are putting their reputation on the line. It is vital to be modest, engaging, quick to respond and highly professional. It is also a good practice to report back on progress with that relationship to your network connector. Now that said, there may be times when you accidentally let those introductions languish untouched. If this happens, engage as soon as you can with a sincere apology. It may take time to rebuild trust. But is also might be altogether too late to salvage the introduction. Never ignore the lead entirely for the sake of your relationship with your network connector.

Find a way to make it worth the Networker’s effort

One of the challenges of being the connectors between companies that should be doing business together is the business model. How do you get paid for introductions? No one knows the value of the relationship about to be forged, if it even moves forward at all. Be sure to find a way to make introductions worth the network connector’s time. This could be a commission based off of the increase in revenue. It could be referrals back to this connector for leads to contract for their services. Or it could be a gift. Always be aware of bribery laws, particularly in the case of any government officials, and follow the laws closely.

It’s never too early to start building your own international network

Networking styles vary greatly. Some engage closely with colleagues and others who they interact with frequently. Others are highly social and know hundreds if not thousands of people. Regardless of your style, reach out to new people when possible and keep positive work relationships strong through the years. I also encourage you to find mentors and take on your own protoges. Mentor-protege relationships tend to be some of the strongest.

Remember that to be effective in international business, at least some relationships will likely need to span both your professional and personal circles. You will need to care about what your connections care about: children’s weddings, health, holidays, etc. Get invested in their lives for the long term.

 

As you continue to grow into international markets, the right connections can be absolutely crucial. Even young companies pre-internationalization should consider making connections. Connections won’t be instantaneous: it takes time to forge new relationships. Invest wisely!

As a thank you to my loyal readers, you can download my International Market Entry Checklist without cost. From time to time I also send out tips and tools to help growing companies become more globally competitive. Click here to sign up and download this Checklist.

The International Entrepreneur – Improving Agile International Project Management

agile global project management, international trade,
This week I caught up top global IT project manager, Sean Hull. Sean leads global teams on enterprise system implementations. His latest project involved a U.S.-American company implementing a customized system for an Australian customer that was developed by a South Korean team. I wanted to hear Sean’s insights about how agile management practices are used in global project implementations.

Like Sean, I have spent much of my career in and around large-scale technology industries. I know that any company selling enterprise-level customized software or other technologies needs a high-performance professional implementation services team – the company’s competitive edge.

I recently worked with a tech company that did not yet have such a team. Projects lost money instead of providing much-needed profit margins. Fulfilling the contract meant commandeering product development resources away from core product (that was already late to market) in order to write custom code. It was a first-class mess. Any improvements to project management methods literally hit the bottom line for the company.

“Software is worthless until it is used by a customer.” ~ Sean Hull

Sean went on to say that, in Agile Project Management, software is delivered in iterative code and documentation. Feedback from the customer is built into short “sprint” cycles. This requires vendor and customer staff to have instant contact. Tight delivery cycles and collaborative communications need to be exceptionally managed for all of this to be successful. One of the benefits of agile project management is that the customer helps to discover any issues much earlier in the implementation process. This saves time and resources overall.

 

Here are some of Sean’s tips for effective global project management:

Tip 1: Enforce your project management processes and tools. A project manager can choose from any number of processes and online tools to manage the project. Enforcing that nothing happens on the project unless it is communicated and documented according to the project rules is especially critical when the team is spread out geographically. One of Sean’s favorite project collaboration tools is Basecamp, which scales from small to very large projects.

Tip 2: Get to know your team. Meet in person, if you can, even if that means traveling to the same location. Be sure to draw up a process that would work for all involved. It is extremely helpful to know how your team members currently approach their work. Together with his team Sean likes to define: What does the baked pizza look like? It’s also a great idea to look for ways to make life easier for all involved.

Tip 3: Know how to collaborate with all cultures involved. In some cultures, the boss tells his or her team exactly what to do. In others, team members are expected to take more initiative and share their expertise openly within the team. Incorporate the various styles into how you work with your team. Sean recommends using the SCARF Model.

Tip: 4: Take advantage of the tactical tools from Agile methodologies. This includes how to run meetings, monitoring progress, etc. These work well as long as you take into the variation needed for culture and personality.

As global project management competency grows as a critical factor for business success, these skills will be critical to securing profit margins and loyal customers. I hope you find these tips useful in your company and projects.

For more information about how to expand your company internationally, please contact me for a 30-minute complimentary consultation.

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 9 Ways to Improve Your International Presentations

international presentation, audience, international trade

Your big prospective international partner has agreed to let you present your company’s ideas on how to work together. Everyone goes through the formalities of introductions. Now it’s time for your presentation. But as you start to go through your standard presentation, the executives look increasingly disinterested. Some even look a bit agitated. You can feel the heat rising in the room. After the presentation, the audience seems much less engaged in the partnership idea. What has gone wrong?

Let’s go back to the preparations you made before the big presentation. An international presentation requires some key adjustments to be successful. Here are 9 ways to improve your presentations to international audiences:

Know your audience. Are you talking with a German industrial company where technical details are more important than any emotional appeals? Or is this a Brazilian services company where emotional appeal is actually more critical? Should it be fast paced for Americans or slower for an Indian audience? Should I show higher modesty levels for East Asian or Latin American listeners or should I show more confidence for the Lebanese? Cultural and industry variances are important to your content if you want to be in harmony with your audience.

Slow down and simplify language. Those of us who are English speakers need to slow our rate of delivery down for presentations. This is not because our audience is in any way less intelligent than us, but that listening in another language takes concentration away from formulating analysis about your content as well as any questions audience members may have.

No idioms, slang, humor, or other cultural references. These things just don’t translate well. Americans, that means no baseball references like “hitting it out of the ballpark” or “pinch hitting”. Humor varies enough from one country to another that it’s better to avoid the risk of the joke falling flat altogether.

Know the color and symbol references. A few examples: In China, red and yellow are generally positive colors. Green is associated with Islam in many Muslim countries. But don’t show an image of someone with their thumbs up in Turkey: it’s considered vulgar.

Use examples from the natural world. I read this suggestion a while ago and if I knew the source I would credit them. Great suggestion. The entire world understands concepts like predator and prey, animals knowing in advance of a natural disaster, etc. If there is a chance to use examples to make your point from nature, it is likely to be understood and remembered.

Know if there is a status order. In many cultures, the highest-ranking leader in the group gets deferential treatment. That means that you acknowledge their importance in the room and focus your presentation on their attention. This would be true in places like Thailand, Egypt, Argentina and Kuwait. In some countries the opposite is true- everyone gets the same treatment and respect. This includes places like Canada, Australia and Sweden.

Presentation slides should be written out in full sentences for non-English audiences. Many non-native English speakers learned to read and write more than listen and speak. This is especially true in many parts of Asia. Your audience may get much more from reading your slides than from what you say.

Leave behind full-color handouts of your presentation. If this presentation is critical to your company, then by all means have the materials also translated into the local language. This will help you to stand out from your competition!

BE PREPARED. This may sound obvious, but reviewing and practicing before the presentation will help you to stay more engaged with your audience. If possible, do a rehearsal of your presentation with an in-country contact who can give you feedback on how your presentation will be received.

Presentations can help build a key business partnership or accelerate a sales process with an important client. But done poorly, it can cause you to stumble and lose credibility. I hope this article was helpful. If you need help as your company moves into new international markets, please feel free to contact me for advice. I offer a 30-minute complimentary session to talk about your plans and challenges.

 

Onward & upward,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur- 9 Signs You Need International Resource Backup

international trade, international entrepreneur,

The reality is this: No one knows everything there is to know about international trade. There are 180+ sovereign countries, 3,000+ languages, local regulations and business practices, and countless other details that affect doing business.

We may not know it all, but we can strengthen our knowledge, positioning and outcomes by shoring up weaknesses in international operations and focusing on our core competencies.

For international operations, here are clear signs that it’s time to bring in outside resources to advise or outsource specific functions:

  1. When your company has many international sales leads, but no plan for how to enter high-demand markets or serve those markets. Lots of leads means you likely have opportunities to grow into new markets. The time to plan is now.
    What you need: an International Strategy Advisor. Unlike a Country Specialist, who focuses on a single foreign market, you’re looking for someone who focuses on strategy and is geographically agnostic.
  2. When you don’t know enough about overseas markets to make sound business decisions. How big are your international markets? What’s the competition? What would it cost to enter these markets? If you don’t know, then your leadership team is operating in the dark.
    What you need: International Market Researchers. A Generalist can help point in the right directions. But to drill down to actionable data, Country Specialists are going to need to research for you in country.
  3. When your sales team can’t seem to negotiate favorable terms in their international agreements. No more playing the blame game about how the other side didn’t negotiate fairly. The reality is that few North American sales or business development professionals fully prepare for international negotiations. But you can put the odds back in your favor.
    What you need: International Negotiations Coach. Learn the real rules of the game before stepping on to the court. And look forward to not only better terms in your agreements, but strong long-term relationships with clients and partners.
  4. When your company website and other key marketing tools are not available in your major markets’ languages. This may seem like an obvious situation to fix, but unfortunately translation/localization often lags behind market demand. Or if the website does have translated pages, they are done so poorly that it undermines company branding.
    What you need: Local Marketing Outsourcing Firms. If your company is getting 30% of its leads from Poland, then it’s time to hire a local Polish marketing firm to localize your online presence and create a local strategy that fits how business is done locally. Never short change translation/localization in important markets. You’re just shooting yourself in the foot.
  5. When your new overseas operations start off with great intentions but quickly dissolve into a mess. You’ll know that you need a third party to intervene when distrust starts to grow between the remote foreign operation and headquarters staff.
    What you need:Cross-Cultural Trainer and Troubleshooter. An outside resource can often cut through the issues quickly to find root causes. So often the issues are culturally based, leading to clashing expectations on roles, outcomes and communication styles. Get help quickly. Really.
  6. When you’ve entered international markets, but have not registered your trademarks internationally. If your company is guilty of this oversight, please understand that it is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette. If you register with WIPO and China fees are trivial compared with the costs and headaches of wrestling back your trademark from IP pirates later.
    What you need: International Intellectual Property Attorney. A good law firm with international capabilities is critical.
  7. When local taxation is costing your company profit margins. Local governments want their share of your company’s success. But there are smart ways to plan to minimize your company’s international tax burden.
    What you need: International Tax Accountant. Larger accounting firms all have international tax specialists. Make sure that your firm’s international tax department is giving advice to lower your taxable income in high rate regions. They’ll also ensure that your company is fully compliant and not exposed to future penalties.
  8. When your shipping department is spending lots of time on international shipments, but logistics is still eating up profit margins. If your shipping department specializes in international documentation and logistics, then it’s a competitive advantage. But for most companies, outsourcing international shipping can save a great deal of money AND headaches.
    What you need: a Freight Forwarder. There are other types of international logistics firms, but freight forwarders are one of the most common. Find one familiar with your type of product, has a strong reputation, and is the right size to serve your company.
  9. When you are losing opportunities from lack of in-country connections. If no one wants to talk with your business development executives or sales manager, it may mean that you need some well-placed introductions. In many countries, it’s not a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity.
    What you need: In-Country Intermediaries. It usually works best to find paid intermediaries through your local embassy, chamber of commerce, or industry association. In places like Brazil, U.A.E. and Thailand, an intermediary can save months of time trying to do it yourself.

I hope this list is helpful to you. If you need any referrals for specific resources, please let me know.

If you need an International Strategy Advisor, International Negotiations Coach or an International Cross-Cultural Trainer and Troubleshooter- I offer a 30-minute complimentary consultation.

Best of success in all of your international business!
Becky Park , MBA, MS
The International?Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy

 

Revitalizing Global B2B Social Media Strategy

As many of you know, I recommend incorporating a social media program into almost any business-to-business international marketing plan. Social media allows your staff to directly engage with current customers and targeted prospective clients, as well as intervene in a negative product or service feedback. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a global reach to markets companies never thought they would so easily access. Social media (both paid and organic) also significantly boosts a company website’s search engine optimization- a key element to your potential clients finding your site online.

But unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably knew all of that.

Since social media rarely stops at the border, companies are able to engage with some potential business online. But that doesn’t mean that social media will necessarily help you reach your company’s goals. To do that, it takes a more targeted approach to social media in international markets. Here’s a start to reviewing your global social media strategy:

Make Sure You Have Social Media Goals

I am still amazed at how many companies do not have clearly defined goals for their social media program. Or if they do have a goal, it involves something warm and fuzzy like unmeasured brand awareness. Instead, consider both reactive functions like customer service response; as well as proactive goals related to new lead identification and lead nurturing. If you don’t have clear goals, you’ll never connect with your leads!

Cloning Domestic Social Media Plans Will Flop

Social media works effectively when your content and conversations resonate with new and current customers. To be truly effective instead of merely reactive, that means taking on a decentralized social media approach on all platforms. So Facebook company pages, Twitter accounts and Linkedin company profiles should all be written in your target markets’ local languages and localized to the market’s preferred marketing and selling styles. If you don’t decentralize, then you’re only seeing a fraction of the potential from overseas markets.

Know the Market’s Preferred Platforms

I recently worked with a company that decided to expand a U.S.-based Linkedin paid media into Australia and New Zealand. Those of us who focus on B2B markets know that despite Linkedin’s lower global usage rates to larger platforms like Facebook, Twitter & Google+ it can be affective in certain B2B markets. While somewhat stronger in the U.S., Linkedin has not expanded internationally at the same rate as other key platforms. In Australia, for instance, only 9% of the population has an active Linkedin account. That compares with 40% of Aussies using Facebook.

In early 2015, We Are Social released a Global Web Index report on global social media usage. Not only does Canada have almost twice as many Twitter users (23%) over Linkedin (12%), but almost half of Canadians used Facebook in the past month of their study. The French don’t use Twitter or Linkedin nearly as much as Google+ and of course the global giant, Facebook. Japan uses social media much less with top activity going to Twitter with 16%. The bottom line – know your market before investing time and resources.

Global Social Media Strategy

Identify Local Social Media Resources, Then Train on Company Policies

If you are targeting the German market, then it’s time to find a local point person for German social media content creation and online communications. Your company may already be established in Germany and so you have staff or outsourced resources who can perform these functions. BUT, if this is new then consider finding a local marketing firm with social media services. To keep costs low, provide centralized content to be translated and localized.

When several local resources are managing social media, it is critical to have a written set of social media policies that state the boundaries on what a representative of the company can communicate to customers and leads. This includes branding guides, professional conduct code, what constitutes company secrets, etc. I recommend video training to reinforce these policies. Too many companies miss this step and regret retracting and responding to an inappropriate post or tweet!

The Good Guys Win in the End

Developing quality content on company website blogs is one of the cornerstones of any global social media program. One high-quality weekly post always trumps daily gibberish. And engaging social media staff who speak in their own authentic voice will attract far more qualified leads than any silly made-up personas. People can always spot the knock-off brand.

In summary, global social media has great potential to help a B2B company expand into new and existing international markets. To do this, be clear about your program goals. Consider a decentralized approach to content and communication. Pick your platforms carefully based on each market. Choose the right in-country resources, then train them on your company social media policies. And finally, deliver consistent substance and sincere engagement. Then enjoy the fruits of your efforts!
If you company needs a review of your global social media program or help setting up a program, please contact me.

Best of success in your international expansion!

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 5 International Strategy Traps to Avoid

Wrong Way, nternational Strategy , International Entrepreneur, InternationalAs an International Business Consultant, part of my job is to detect patterns and trends. Is a foreign market going to expand or contract? Can we go viral with a referral marketing program? What are the buyer personas in a new market?

But there are more than a few patterns between unsuccessful international expansions. Some of these mistakes can jeopardize success in an overseas market. Others can destroy a company. Here are 5 classic international strategy traps everyone needs to prevent:

1. Slow Organic Growth into Competitive Markets
This may sound obvious, but international expansion costs money. Some companies are fortunate enough to have a steady stream of bountiful earnings to then fuel their international expansion. Others raise cash from either equity investors or on credit. But many expand very slowly into new markets, spending funds as they become available.

This raises two sizable issues: First, organically funded expansions are rarely consistent. Instead they trickle marketing and other operations. There’s no show of real commitment to would-be clients or partners. It’s difficult for the new market to take your company seriously.

The second and more ominous problem is the local competition. Instead of using a well-funded market launch to establish a clear foothold in the country, a slow entry gives the competition plenty of time to figure out ways to ensure your failure from taking their market share.

2. No Rainy Day Plans
International expansion is usually a sunny day activity. Business is good and opportunities are abound. The exchange rate is favorable and trade barriers are low. So now what happens when something shifts back and the rain begins to fall? Companies need to always be prepared for a range of possible international changes.

Canadians, this is especially important right now for you as the Canadian Loonie is low to the American Buck. While offering Canadian-level prices might seem like a great way to expand your American client base, eventually the exchange rate pendulum will swing the other way. When that happens, your margins will get squeezed. It’s better to prepare for both exchange rate scenarios and prepare for the long run.

3. Requiring Short-Term Gratification (a.k.a. The Toddler Syndrome)
Now normally this trap ensnares either newly public companies or internationally-inexperienced leaders. After an Initial Public Offering, the pressure is turned up by quarterly reporting requirements. It becomes vital to reassure current and future investors of the company’s financial health. International expansion does not run on a quarterly system. It’s decidedly messy as it grows and matures into steadier income streams – a bit like my teenage son’s room. Guiding an internationally growing company takes a steady hand, discipline… and definitely patience.

4. The Ugly Market Exit
When sales and profits are flowing, it’s easy to be the good partner or vendor. But when an expansion goes badly, many companies will cut their losses during the market exit. They may leave a trail of debts, broken promises, contract breaches and spoiled relationships. This is bad “rainy day planning”. By saving a few dollars in the short run, this fleeing company burns bridges. But it’s more than just that. A reputation in that market and neighboring markets grows. Should the company ever decide later to go after international potential, they will find their reputation precedes them and doors will remain closed.

5. Decision-Making Based on Assumptions Instead of Research
It is truly staggering how often companies base major expansion decisions based on relatively arbitrary assumptions or shallow relationships. Staggering. There are two main assumptions that steer decision makers off course. First is the assumption of sameness. We often assume that the new market will behave like ours: same sales motivations, same sales cycles, same budget expectations, same legal structure, etc. But even countries with many similarities (U.S./Canada, Indonesia/Malaysia, Belgium/Netherlands, etc.) have plenty of differences too. Without understanding the differences there is no way to avoid costly mistakes.

The type of assumption is that which is based on stereotypes. While this trap is widespread, I see it often in the U.S. when talking about China. “The Chinese don’t respect the contract.” “The Chinese will steal your trademarks.” These stereotypes are based on many companies’ experiences, but completely miss the point of how to effectively do business with what will soon be the largest market in the world. Assumptions often take the place of both solid market research and utilizing outside international advisors. Advisors can help a company navigate what is real and what isn’t, as well as provide more concrete information on which to make smarter decisions.

All of these traps are common and detrimental to an international expansion. If your company is experiencing the challenges of international expansion and needs assistance, please contact me. I offer a 30-minute complimentary consultation to companies looking to expand or improve their international operations.  Best wishes to all!

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur -Building a Stronger International Strategy

Today’s reality: most companies don’t strategically plan their international expansion. Or if there is a plan, it’s often broad and filed in some file drawer collecting dust. Instead, it sort of just happens and employees are along for the ride. If you are wondering if this is true in your organization, here are some signs of absence of a solid international strategy:

  • Knee-jerk reacting to international opportunities. Throwing resources at the newest market or big international prospective client can put untold strain on company operations trying to cover what amounts to chasing your tail.
  • Unsolicited partnerships are the backbone of your expansion. If you don’t understand motivations, the wrong resellers & other partners can steal your intellectual property or otherwise spoil your international brand.
  • Financial surprises plague profits. When issues like Italy’s profit repatriation rules, Indian labor laws or a Brazilian lawsuit keep catching your company off guard, it’s a sign of lack of research & planning.
  • Flimsy market entry justification. My favorite in this category is breaking into markets with the highest GDP growth. Since a country can have high growth one year & sink the next, it leaves no room to build a market long-term. A boat that constantly changes course will never to reach goals or a final destination.
  • Pulling out of markets based on this quarter’s earnings. Exiting an international market not only burns bridges but also often leaves many local financial obligations and works against long-term efforts.

building international strategy, international business, international marketing

A Better International Strategic Framework

The good news is that there is a better way. The tail chasing can stop and your staff can productively work together towards the right goals. Here’s where I normally begin an international strategy assessment:

  1. What’s your company’s exit strategy?
    What’s your company owners’ exit strategy? Are you planning an IPO, equity buy out or acquisition? Or do you plan to pass on this company to future generations? What kind of company will your leaders be passing to its next owners? Knowing the window of time to exit helps to determine which opportunities make the most sense to maximize outcomes.
  1. What are the goals of the international expansion?
    Many companies measure international success based on the Return on Investment (ROI). If this is your situation, then your strategy needs to reflect the required Internal Rate of Return. But many companies choose to reflect multiple value-creation objectives. These can include building a global brand, increasing global market share, developing an international supply chain, and reducing dependency on a single market or currency. By defining the goals up front, you know exactly what port you’re sailing to before you leave shore.
  1. Do you know your real opportunities and costs?
    It is a rare company that takes the time to research the true potential of their markets and then the associated costs to gain market share. But those who do are typically the market leaders (no surprise, really). It takes internal staff or international consultants asking the right questions to truly unearth the new business environment BEFORE investing more resources.
  1. What are your company’s risk tolerance and comfort with foreignness?
    Inherently some international projects are riskier than others. Safe may be doing business between the U.S. and Canada, or between Germany and Austria. There are similar business environments, language, culture, etc. But at some point, success will bring opportunities that are further afield and rich in potential. When those potential clients call, is your company ready to do business in Mongolia or Mali? I recently spent time working with a software company where some of the front line staff quietly avoided following up on international leads. Needless to say, the close rates for international leads were incredibly low. The company CEO touted his global company, but there was serious resistance in the ranks.
  1. What are your financial resources for expansion?
    The best-laid plans in the world are reduced to dust when there is no money to pay for the international expansion. I am amazed at how many companies actually try the no-cash approach. In my experience it’s never successful. Ever. Most small and medium-sized technology and services companies finance their expansions slowly through retained earnings. This can be effective if it aligns to your end game plan. Some companies rely on either bank loans or equity investment to finance their expansion. This works well for a well researched, contemplated and executed plan. A fourth option that should always be considered is to look into your own government’s export promotion programs. There may be grants, low-interest loans or other incentives to expand while creating jobs in your own country.

These questions are a starting point for building a better international expansion strategy. But to truly leverage your company’s competitive advantages and global potential, you should engage with business resources who can help your company plot the course to success.

If you would like to review your company’s international expansion strategy and plans, I offer a 30-minute complimentary conference call to learn about your opportunities and challenges. To schedule this call, please email me at [email protected].

 

Best of success in all of your international business dealings!
Becky Park, MS, MBA

The International Entrepreneur

The International Entrepreneur – 5 Tech Firm Strategy Myths that Need Busting

Have you ever wondered why international expansion results often are underwhelming and unimpressive? A tech company realizes that many international clients are proactively seeking out their products & services. They decide that it’s time to expand into new markets. I think it’s time to bust some myths in international business strategy that have plagued tech industries for far too long.

international strategy, international business, international marketing

Myth 1 – If the international markets don’t succeed in a year, we can just pull out.

First, international expansion takes at least two years to fully take hold in the first international market (if you’ve done it right). Expansion takes company-wide commitment to long-term growth and profits. Second, companies that come in and then pull back out often burn the bridges of partnership and government relationships that they would need again if they tried expansion at a later time. Not a smart plan.

Myth 2 – We can lower our risks by using local market reps to sell internationally for us.

In the right circumstances using international representatives or distributors can substitute for a company knowing how to directly sell in a foreign market. The local rep can also help with product information translations and use their existing networks to accelerate sales.

But here are the risks: First, anyone with detailed product information can also turn around and sell that information to your local competitors. For technology companies, that can be a huge business risk. Second, local reps want to represent your product if it produces a lot of revenue with little effort. If it’s a more challenging market introduction, they will likely put your product on the back shelf, thereby wasting precious time in the market with few results. And third, local reps may be more open to bribing officials or companies to get the sale. This is a direct risk to a company where corruption laws are stricter and hold the parent company responsible for any unlawful payments.

Myth 3 – We can sell technology using the same sales process as we do at home.

Sales expectations vary greatly from country to country. In a place like Australia, return on investment is often measured carefully. In Egypt, buyers expect to be able to negotiate a deal with a much lower price. Some countries use contracts as the foundation of the sale while for others the contract is a mere formality. In each new market entry, the sales process needs to be carefully reviewed for local expectations.

Myth 4 – We can just translate a webpage for each new language and that will give us access to the markets speaking that language.

Keep dreaming. In reality, markets look first to their local country TLD (top level domain) such as .de, .au, etc. And then they may search in their language too. Unless you have a marketing program that focuses on building brand recognition in that language, the one-page language is a mere footnote to your site. It will not inspire confidence that you know how to do business in the places that speak that language.

Myth 5 – Ignore the advice of your local staff or other in-country marketing resources

This one seems silly and I wouldn’t include it except that I’ve actually seen several tech companies miss the wisdom from their own local resources. Local staff and marketing agencies should be giving you advice on how to better tailor your product, processes, website, etc. to work better locally. A great way to make sure that the staff is right: A/B Test the change to see if traffic, conversion and sales improve.

International strategy is critical to the long-term success of a multi-national company of any size. If you have questions about any aspect of this framework, or would like assistance in assessing your current and future international capabilities,please contact mefor a free 30-minute consultation over the phone or Skype.

Best of success in all of your international markets,

Becky Park 

The International Entrepreneur

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