If you’re part of a small or medium-sized company (SME) which is looking to grow, the thought of expanding your business overseas might excite you. Or terrify you. Or both. Either way, when you consider the time, resources and energy involved in launching a new venture in a new country, it can be a daunting prospect. Where to start? How to do it? Who to talk to? Do you have time to launch offshore and still maintain your core business?
Alongside these questions, I also find our clients worry about the degree of difficulty and the cost of international expansion – both valid concerns, especially if you don’t have deep pockets.
The good news is that globalisation, cheap(er) travel and technology have all made reaching clients, partners and staff in other countries easier than ever before. So while ‘going global’ is still a significant project for a small company, there are some “light-touch” methods that you can use to trial the concept without it costing you an arm and a leg or plunging you into complex commercial challenges. Here are my top three.
Create a strategic alliance
A strategic alliance is a relationship between two or more parties to pursue a set of agreed upon goals while remaining independent organizations. In other words, two companies can agree to do a project together for a period of time, without taking on the risk of merging their operations. The advantage is that each company gets to leverage the resources and expertise of the other, rather than having to bear the cost of acquiring those assets for themselves.
For some examples of highly successful international strategic alliances, check out this article by Forbes magazine.
I like strategic alliances a lot, because they allow you to test concepts in an international setting, without taking a lot of risk. The caveat here is that you must choose an alliance partner who you trust, like and can work with.
Use a global digital channel
In other words, sell online. This channel can be a great options for SMEs, in both the goods sector and in some parts of the services sector. Some of the benefits of using a global digital channel include:
Lower startup and running costs
Opening a physical store or office can be extremely expensive, especially in a new country. Not only do you pay for rent, utilities, merchandise, employees and marketing, you also have to shell out for the cost of setting up a company or branch office overseas. Selling digitally cuts most of these expenses out, and the money you save can be used to develop your website and product range further. Digital selling will also help you expand your product offering faster than is normally possible within an offline business situation.
You can operate from anywhere and reach customers everywhere
Selling online removes most of the geographical restrictions you face if you use a face-to-face or office-based business model. You can be anywhere around the world and still successfully oversee your digital business, which saves you a lot in travel expenses. You can also reach customers from just about anywhere in the world, without incurring the costs of setting up a physical presence in their country. Customers can now search for the product or service your business offers from anywhere on Earth, just by doing a Google search. Your essential item? Good internet access.
Your business is always open
Even better than reaching customers around the world, your online business is always open, so they can purchase your services no matter what time zone they are in. Even better, you don’t have to pay an employee to work during these slower, off business hours since everything the customer needs is on their screen.
License your IP
If you’re a service provider, it may be unclear to you how you can sell what you do offshore, particularly if you are a very small operation. Don’t despair, you may be able to license your intellectual property (IP). This means that you give another company the right to use your methodology to create your product or service, in return for a fee and subject to certain conditions.
Licensing can apply to a whole range of areas – from a specific technique for delivering physiotherapy to dogs and cats, to a proven methodology for teaching dance to children – the key thing is that it is different, unique and fantastic. For example, we work with a client who has a technology for smoking eggs and she is planning to license the process for that product to large companies around the world.
My question for you? What’s one low-risk, low-cost channel for taking your business offshore that you could investigate and implement this year?