By Mark Pearson, Founder, MyVoucherCodes.co.uk
There’s never been a better time to grow a business beyond the borders of your home country. For little more than the cost of building a website, any firm can begin selling products or services all over world.
According to UK Trade and Investment, online selling will allow British firms to reach a potential audience of 3 billion people and earn £60 billion a year by 2018.
The rewards are potentially huge, but so are the pitfalls. Here are a few tips on how to create a truly international business.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
The government is desperate to help British businesses expand into overseas markets and has opened up a number of schemes to help fledging multinationals spread their wings. The UKTI, for instance, runs a scheme called the e-Exporting Programme which links up British companies to foreign e-marketplaces including Tmall, Jumeii and ASOS China. More than 100 firms have already benefited from this programme, including fashion brands Karen Millen and Cath Kidston as well as food companies like Tyrrell’s Crisps. Why not make sure your business is next?
Know your product
You’ve heard about how difficult it is to sell ice to the Inuit, so have a good think about which territories to aim your product or service at. If you’re making beer, it’s probably not a good idea to try and sell it to Belgium. Likewise, your American-style dating service might not fly in a conservative Middle Eastern country. Local knowledge is key, so find a territory where there’s a gap to be exploited. You also need to know what value you are adding to a new territory. If your product is cheaper and better than anything on offer, then you’re onto a winner. However, if the opposite applies, you should think again. Don't hammer down the door if no-one inside wants to see you.
Make sure you understand the market
Nothing beats local knowledge. Once you’ve identified a place to expand your business, try to reach out to locals and find out a little bit more about how business is done there. There’s no replacement for experience here, so if you’re serious about expansion, you might want to employ someone who lives in the country you’re targeting, even on a short term basis. You don’t want to go making elementary blunders which hobble your business before it even gets off the starting blocks.
Take advantage of international supply chains
From website design to manufacturing, it’s often cheaper to build things abroad. Indian programmers will help you make a website while Chinese factories will build products at a much cheaper cost than in Britain. However, make sure you know how much this is all going to cost. Import duties can be pricey, as can the actual cost of trust. Also, try to work with an outsourcer you know and trust. Again, getting boots on the ground is the best way to be effective here. Go and meet people face to face rather than over Skype or, even worse, via email.
Think quickly. Act even faster
Read the newspapers every day and make sure you are on top of every development. If a market starts to look shaky, it’s imperative you are ahead of the curve and act quickly to withdraw or protect. Contacts will help here. You don’t want to have all your assets stuck in a country where the economy is tanking or a conflict is brewing.
Guard your intellectual property
Not every country thinks the same way about copyright as the US, Britain or Europe. It's easy to get a European trade mark or patent recognised, but it’s quite another thing doing the same in China. If you have a product you want to protect, it will pay dividends to get a good, local lawyer to help you. It might be expensive, but guarding your intellectual property will pay dividends in the future.
Don’t get too attached to one market
If your expansion into a given market isn’t working but you’ve done your due diligence, don’t be afraid to pull the plug. When I launched My Voucher Codes globally into 12 markets at the same time a few years ago, I needed the business to take off in just a few of those markets for the initiative to be successful. I wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on the places that didn’t work and put those resources and energy into markets that were working.
Founder of MyVoucherCodes.co.uk, Mark is a serial entrepreneur and investor in digital businesses.