If you’re reading this, then things with your business are probably going pretty well. Whether you sell goods or services, once you reach a certain stage with your local and national sales then it’s only natural that you should start to look beyond your borders and wonder what business opportunities might be out there, just waiting to be grabbed with both hands.
After all, expanding into a different market can offer a business all kinds of benefits, the most obvious being a boost in sales. Beyond just that, however, it can also grow your brand image, and means that you have a kind of insurance policy that should in theory protect you from being too badly affected by the fluctuations of your domestic economy. Think of it as not having all your eggs in one basket.
But, no matter how confident you are in your entrepreneurial abilities and how much faith you have in your brand, expansion is a big deal. Expanding into an entirely new market and selling to a target audience with an entirely different culture that speaks an entirely different language, or at least a specific dialect, is always going to be a daunting prospect. Particularly when you’re doing it for the very first time.
It’s also going to involve significant chunk of investment and will probably involve more than a few steep learning curves, so it’s important that you’re 100% sure that your business is ready for the leap before you take it. Then, you can face the challenge head on and enjoy the voyage of discovery, rather than be overwhelmed by it.
I’m here to help you figure out if you’re ready to expand your business into other markets and, if that’s the case, decide which country or countries you should be setting your sights on.
Before you decide to expand into a new market, ask yourself the questions below (and make sure you give yourself honest answers!).
Making the right decision
- Is your business currently stable (both operationally and financially) as it is?
This is the most important thing to get clear on before you set yourself this new challenge. Expanding into a new market will put stress on your business, so if there are any cracks in your business they will inevitably widen.
Make sure that you’re confident that everything in your business can operate smoothly without your constant vigilance and that you have the funds available to invest in your expansion, or a source of funds available to you.
- Have you already got international customers?
Just because your brand isn’t deliberately targeting international customers doesn’t mean that you might not already have built a customer base beyond your national borders. Do you own an e-commerce site, and do you find that a significant chunk of your orders are being placed overseas?
Or have you found yourself receiving enquires about your product or services from businesses based in other countries?
Have you had positive feedback about your business from peers based elsewhere at, say, trade shows, or even in the virtual world?
Interest in your business from a foreign market when you haven’t yet started expanding into it is a very positive sign that your business is ready to take this step.
- Is everyone on board?
Your business might be anything from a one-man show to a team hundreds of people strong, but whatever your circumstances are you need to make sure that everyone is fully behind the project.
After all, it’s going to be a challenge, so take the time to make sure everyone is happy to make the big push.
Choosing the right market
Now you’ve decided whether or not expansion is a good idea in theory, it’s time to consider what might be the perfect market or markets for you. Just remember, the most obvious options aren’t always the best ones.
- What markets would be easiest to target? Do you have any aces up your sleeve?
Generally, it’s going to be easier to expand into a market where the language, culture and way of doing business are as similar as possible. However, it’s always important to be aware that similar as two countries might seem, like Portugal and Brazil, there are always going to be big cultural and linguistic variations to take into account.
Consider your individual circumstances. If you do happen to have family from, say, France, and speak the language fluently and already have business connections there, then consider taking advantage of that and making France your target.
Use your common sense and don’t be afraid to let your gut guide you.
- Will your product or service sell?
You will more than likely have already done thorough market research when you originally set up your business, so now it’s time to apply that to the market you have in mind.
You need to make sure you’re clear on the demand for your product or service, the local and international competition you’re up against, the infrastructure you’ll be working with and the cost involved before committing.
- Are you able to get your hands on the licenses you’ll need?
The last thing you want is to get your hopes up about a certain market and then realise that you aren’t, for whatever reason, able to obtain a vital license, or sort out the trademark or copyright? Establish exactly what costs are involved with all the paperwork before deciding if a market is worth investing in.
Making the right preparations
Once your target market or markets have been decided upon, it’s time to make sure your business is well-prepared for the new challenge ahead.
- Does your brand need a redesign?
No matter how familiar you are with your new target market, this is the stage where an expert on the culture and language that you’re targeting needs to be brought in. You might need to change your logo, your colour scheme or re-think exactly what you’re offering. They will probably suggest changes that would never have occurred to you. Bear in mind that your snappy slogan probably won’t translate literally into another language.
- Is your website translation-friendly?
It might be that your website just needs localization rather than translation and localization, depending on whether there’s a language barrier involved, but you need to make sure that the copy on your website is clear so that it can be translated accurately to avoid any potentially serious misunderstandings.
It’s vital to get your website and any other copy translated by a professional who has a deep understanding of the market you’re targeting.