Thinking of growing your business in a new country? Nothing beats going out there and exploring. And it’s absolutely essential before committing to anything.
People often ask me to suggest how they should prepare. Preparation is important, you shouldn’t go with vague ideas or too many assumptions. However many times you’ve been to the country or city before, whether on holiday or business trips, you need to start from an entirely different approach if you’re thinking of setting up a base there.
I’ve been to over a hundred countries and set up businesses in about 20 of them — and in the early days, I got a lot wrong. I’m hoping that this advice (and don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you what to pack) will help you and others avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced.
Obviously some preparations depend on the type of business you are in, but some are common to all.
Since there’s a lot to think about, I’ve divided this into two chapters.
I’m assuming you’ve already decided on where you’ll be expanding to, or that it’s a place on your shortlist and you’re whittling down options.
Logics of travel
Your first serious consideration has to be the logistics of travel. If you’re not happy with the travel arrangements, you may need a very compelling reason to justify expanding to that place.
How long and difficult is the journey? If you set up an operation, you should be going there often — certainly two or three times a year — so you need to be sure that it’s a trip you and your colleagues will be happy to make over and over again.
Do you need a visa? Once you’re established there, will it be easy and quick to get suitable long term visas not only for you, but for your colleagues who will need to visit regularly?
Are there direct flights? If not, what are the best connections? Are the fares reasonable? If either your home or the place you’re considering setting up are only near regional airports without direct flights, or there are only two or three flights a week, these become even more important questions. Once you have an overseas operation, if something goes wrong (and something usually does, eventually) you’ll need to be able to get there quickly, if only for your peace of mind. Hopefully you’ll then find that things aren’t as bad as they were painted.
You need to start your diary planning early. It may be stating the obvious, but first check to avoid public holidays or local events like trade fairs that could make flights and accommodation expensive, or getting around more difficult. It continues to amaze me how many frequent travellers don’t do that.
Learn about about the local business culture.
There are a lot of articles you can find with Google, but, frankly, it’s better to ask someone who has been, and preferably someone who has lived there (or better still, a native).
On a successful reconnaissance trip, you’ll have a lot of meetings. When it comes to timing, some countries have very formal attitudes and punctuality is critical, but in others the mañana mentality is still alive and well — but they’re not necessarily the ones that you might think. Some will welcome early and late meetings, whilst others will only see you 10:00, 2:00 or over lunch. That’s the first thing that dictates how many meetings you can get in a day, so how long you’ll need to spend on your exploratory trip.
And dress code still applies in many countries — that’s not necessarily consistent with the climate, nor the same for every type of meeting.
But you don’t need to believe everything you may be told. For my first trip to Japan, people told me that I would have to shave off my beard. I didn’t, and I never felt it caused any problems. At the end of the day, it’s your personality and stature that count.
Next, of course, you need to plan who you need to meet and understand how your company could work out there. I’ll be covering that in the next chapter.
I welcome any comments or questions — please leave them below, or feel free to get in touch directly, I’ll be happy to hear from you.
International expansion is easier than you may think — and international travel is always great.