Expansion of any type can be tricky for small businesses. It’s all about striking the right balance between consolidating what your business is already good at and looking to raise the bar– the end goal being to substantially grow your organisation’s operations.
As the CEO of a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) myself, this is a conundrum we’ve tackled in the last couple of years as we’ve expanded our brand not only in the UK, but in the overseas markets of Australia and New Zealand. The rewards for our perseverance and commitment to the cause have really paid off and enhanced the future of the business no end – as a result we’re now looking to expand into the US market later this year.
What’s more, having charted the expansion of the business over the last two years, there has been a number of decisions, techniques and strategies that we’ve deployed which have really helped to smooth our path to growth – not only in the UK but in the international market.
Here are the important factors that I feel have truly played their part:
Taking that all important first step
Taking the first step of any new expansion project is always the hardest thing to do. Not only will you have to research your chosen market forensically and develop an appropriate business strategy, you’ll also need to understand the subtle differences that are present in a new market.
For example, if your organisation is expanding into an overseas market, you’ll need to have a good handle on how businesses operate in the area, what their needs and wants are, and ultimately what your product or service can bring to the table.
You also need to have a good eye for the finer details of your operations. Given our recent expansion, we’ve had to ensure that our product and website are adapted to suit the needs of all users across the globe. What’s more, when doing marketing around our brand and product, we’ve had to ensure that they are appropriate for all of the markets we operate in.
It’s in taking these preparatory steps that we’ve been able to take our product overseas and make a real impact.
The people make the business
It probably sounds cliché, and the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in a top tips piece of this nature, however, human beings really are at the heart of your business. If you fail to employ people who can do the complex, time consuming and often tricky processes that your business and customers demand then you won’t have a business for very long.
One of the biggest realisations I’ve had as a business leader is that I can’t do everything. This comes into even sharper focus when your operations span different time zones and locations. Having set up offices in Australia and New Zealand back in 2015, one of our first major tasks as a business was to get the right general manager in place. We needed someone that had the right local knowledge, but, also understood our overarching objectives as a business. By listening to our global staff, and drawing on their unique knowledge and expertise, we’re better placed to not only exist in places like Australia, but really start pushing for further growth in the market.
Although we’ve now got these people in place, I would say that this has been one of our biggest challenges. However, with a good strategy mapped out and a good handle on the timings for your next spurt of expansion, you can avoid any unnecessary stresses and strain when it comes to personnel.
Getting everyone’s buy-in
It’s no secret that expansion of any kind is a real challenge and can sometimes put a strain on a business – particularly when it comes to juggling your current portfolio of clients and trying to attract others.
However, the secret to ensuring that your staff remain happy and engaged is to be transparent about your organisation’s growth ambition. Global expansion also brings with it some additional challenges where a workforce is concerned in respect to the fact that resources could potentially be relocated from one country to another.
With this in mind, you need to encourage and support staff in acquiring a ‘bigger picture’ mentality – one which looks to use a global rather than just a local perspective.
Think about connectivity with the wider ecosystem
Attempt to make your product or service more connectable with the wider ecosystem of products and services. For example, part of our growth strategy has been to ensure that our product is as agile and flexible as it can be when it comes to compatibility with other products on the market.
As a business it is imperative that you have a knowledge of what the needs and wants of local and global markets are. As a result you will be able to make the necessary modifications to your product or service to give it wider appeal.
For instance, part of our expansion into the Australasian market coincided with our decision to integrate with a New Zealand based company called Xero which provides online accounting software for small businesses. The decision to embark on this partnership was a direct result of analysing the markets we were operating in and deciding how best to meet customer needs.
If you have a monolithic offering then you are limiting your opportunities for growth. By trying to expand your offering – making it easier for customers to interact with your product or service – you’ll be opening the door to a wider range of potential business opportunities.
By Adam Reynolds, CEO of webexpenses