Is your company successful at home? Do you believe it could do ten times better if you expanded internationally?
I know a lot of businesses and owners in that category. They’re doing quite well in their local market and they’re like “it would so cool to expand to Singapore … and then China” …. or “we’re thinking about New Zealand and then the UK”. But how many of them actually get out there and do it?
Not that many, as it turns out. Let’s look at the English-speaking world. The statistics say that in the US, less than 5% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operate internationally or service international clients. That number is about the same in Australia. The UK does better, with 20% of SMEs operating or exporting internationally, while in Canada around 12% of SMEs export.
So what’s stopping them … and what’s stopping you? It seems to boil down to four key reasons.
1. They don’t know where to start
2. They believe that they don’t have enough time
3. They think they can’t afford it
4. It’s too risky
It’s true that international expansion throws up new situations and challenges that we’ve never encountered before. For some entrepreneurs, not being able to immediately quantify and manage all the risks that they might encounter scares the hell out of them. Staying home and focusing on a smaller market that they understand seems much safer.
So what’s the truth?
Well, the truth is that it’s easier than you think. I know this because I only have to look around me to name a whole bunch of business owners just like you who have expanded what they do internationally. Let me give you a few examples:
Dale McCarthy from Bondi Born started her swimwear company in 2015. She went from never having designed a bikini to exporting to Europe and China in 2.5 years.
Paul Slezak from RecruitLoop started his recruiting business with his mate Michael Overell in 2011, from a co-working space in Ultimo, Sydney. Fast forward six years and the company is headquartered in San Fancisco and serves clients in 54 countries around the world.
Melinda Mackay started Sugar Free Solutions in 2005 because she wanted to make sure her son, newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes could have cake at his next birthday. Today, Sugar Free Solutions is exporting sugar-free cake and muffin mixes to the Middle East and Asia.
Margot McKinney is a fourth-generation family jeweller from Brisbane, Queensland. Ten years ago she launched her products into the US, which is now her largest market. Margot’s Australian gemstone jewellery is sold across the States and worn by Hollywood starlets.
I could go on.
So what do these entrepreneurs know that you don’t?
Here’s the thing. Entrepreneurs like Dale, Paul, Margot and Melissa have grasped a few key truths about international expansion.
1. You can eat the elephant with a spoon
2. We all have the same number of hours in the day
3. International expansion does not have to be a huge, expensive, irreversible project
4. It’s risky … but not that risky
“Going global” is not a risk-free enterprise, but proper planning, research and market testing can make it a lot less risky and a lot faster. And the alternative – doing nothing, or simply concentrating on the home market – may be equally as risky, as trade barriers come down and new entrants from around the world threaten traditionally secure markets.
And there you have it. International expansion is a significant project, but not an insurmountable one, a risky one, but less risky than playing blackjack. If you have the same amount of time available as other average human beings you can do it. And it doesn’t have to break the bank.
So … what are you waiting for? Time to get out there and make your company (at least) ten times more successful!