“Many companies expand too quickly,” says Jon Fjeld, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke University. While selling overseas extends your company’s reach, he says, you don’t want to move into international markets too soon and use resources you need to continue growing on your home turf.
Here are 10 key questions to ask before going international:
Have I built a solid foundation at home?
Make sure your business is stable on a day-to-day basis before pursuing overseas markets, Fjeld says. For instance, you should determine whether your business could function well in your absence. Companies also “need to have the distribution running smoothly enough so that they don’t have to focus on it constantly,” Fjeld says.
Do I have the bench strength for international expansion?
You will need to assign one or two senior employees to your international effort. So, you need to determine whether you can afford to move people from their current responsibilities, as well as whether they bring – or can quickly develop – the necessary skills for overseas sales and marketing.
“At minimum, you’ll need someone who is going to be accountable for the export sales part of the business,” says Tom Moore, deputy assistant secretary for international operations at the U.S. Commercial Service, the country’s trade promotion arm, in Washington D.C.
Will I find the talent I need in another country?
If you decide to expand, finding local talent can be a challenge. Some countries simply do not have enough of the skilled labour companies may need. You also will be competing with established companies that know where to find talent and how to recruit local candidates. One potential source: local educational institutions such as engineering programs and business schools.
How will I need to adapt to the local culture?
Some countries such as France and Japan expect companies to adapt to the local culture, says Carl Theobald, chief executive of Avangate in Redwood City, California, which provides e-commerce capabilities to small and medium-size companies.
That may mean customising your product or service to meet local customers’ tastes. At the very least, you will need to put your marketing message in the local language and make sure the meaning translates correctly.
Do I understand the cultural implications of the sales process?
Closing a deal abroad can be a vastly different experience than you’re probably used to, says James Hunt, adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
“Some cultures struggle to say, ‘No, we aren’t interested’ in a product or service, which means you can have an extremely long and costly sales process that never leads to a sale.” Such behaviour is especially prevalent in China and the Middle East, he says. To avoid this problem, look for customers who have bought similar items or services in the past, Hunt says. And sometimes it’s better to cut off talks if they lag for too long.
Have I sized up the local competition?
Understanding your competitors abroad can provide insights into how – and whether – to expand. But many companies don’t take time to figure out whether similar products and services are already available in a new market and what they would need to offer to compete successfully.
Spending time abroad and speaking with potential customers can help to avoid costly mistakes.
Do I need an international partner?
For many companies, it’s critical to find a local partner when expanding overseas, Moore says. Partners can help facilitate sales, while keeping costs down for the home office. Forming a partnership takes time – often, a year or longer – and requires plenty of due diligence to find the right fit, Moore says.
The U.S. Commercial Service offers a matchmaking service to help U.S. businesses find appropriate international partnerships abroad.
Am I financially able to sustain an overseas expansion?
Expanding internationally requires a start-up-like period that’s longer than many entrepreneurs anticipate. “You have to expect to lose money for a while,” Fjeld says. So, you not only need enough capital to make the initial investment, but you also should have a long-term financial plan in place, he says.
You will likely need to update the plan to reflect actual revenue and expenses as you ramp up in the new market. “It’s not something you are going to turn a profit on right away; you have to be there for the long haul,” Moore says.
Where’s the potential for red tape?
Expanding beyond the domestic market can mean lots of extra paperwork, especially for medical and technology companies. With such a variety of regulations surrounding exports, it’s important to understand what’s required for your particular industry before attempting to expand abroad.
Medical-device companies, for instance, require extra documentation, including proof that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates its products, Moore says. “Sensitive technology companies may require an export license.”
Should I simply expand my online presence?
For some companies with a strong website, it may not be necessary to establish a physical presence abroad. You may be able to offer overseas shipping and expand payment options without the hassle of extensive tax regulations.
“Selling online through an e-commerce partner with international capabilities is far easier and much less costly than building a local presence,” Theobald says. But at least in some markets, you would need to develop websites in another language that accept the local currency. Online shoppers “are more likely to buy when the experience is in their local language [and] local currency,” Theobald says.
3 Strategies To Implement A Culture Of Innovation In Your Business (Without Blowing Billions)
Learn to think differently, encourage your team to do the same, and innovative disruption could become a part of your company’s DNA.
You’re seeing it everywhere. Disruptive innovation is becoming the new norm, and you’re concerned that your business is merely going through the motions, missing opportunities.
How can you join the Elon Musks of the world, without the corresponding bulging budget?
It turns out that many of the techniques of today’s top innovators don’t require vast outlay. They’re simply about different ways of thinking.
Here are three strategies for enhancing the culture of innovation in your organisation without blowing billions.
1Use ‘Ignorance as strategy’
You’ve encountered the aphorism, ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Similarly, to a banker, the only imaginable approach to banking is ‘the way banking has always been done’. When bankers try to think of innovative new ways of banking, they invariably think of greater complexity.
Along came PayPal
In the April 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review, Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of PayPal, said, ‘All the banking people knew the rules. That prevented them from trying anything that looked remotely like PayPal.’
PayPal was not invented by a bank, just as Uber was not invented by a taxi driver.
To make use of ‘ignorance as strategy,’ try this. Gather a group of strategic thinkers and set the rule: ‘The old way of doing it has been outlawed. How else might we serve the same need?’
Or: ‘We are now our competitors. We have half the budget, but our hearts and souls are invested in one purpose: To topple the original company. We can’t do it the way they do it. So how could we go about it?’
Or: ‘The company has burnt to the ground. We’ve lost everything. We need to keep serving our customers but we need a new, cheap, fast way to do it right now that doesn’t rely on any equipment or systems we used before. What have you got?’
2Use commander’s intent
Imagine: You’re a military commander. You need to move a convoy of trucks through a dangerous canyon. Your intelligence tells you that there is a sniper on one of the escarpments.
There are two ways you could issue an instruction to a soldier:
The first way: ‘Go take out that sniper.’
That’s very clear, and very good. But there’s something surprisingly important missing from it. The ‘why’ is not overtly stated, and for that reason, the mission could actually fail.
Let’s try it again the second way: ‘Go take out that sniper because we need to ensure safe passage through the canyon for our convoy.’
That may sound like a ridiculously obvious addition. Here is why it’s not: In a real, dynamic scenario, things change constantly.
Let’s say your soldier breaks off from the convoy and heads up into the mountains. Very quickly, three things go wrong:
- He can’t find the sniper
- Enemy forces start firing at him, making it difficult to look for the sniper
- His own weapon fails to fire so that he can’t shoot back.
If our soldier thinks only about the literal instruction — ‘shoot the sniper’ — he is now unable to carry it out. But if he bases his actions on the commander’s intention — ‘secure our convoy’ — other options open up to him.
He might draw their fire. He might set a bushfire. Or he might cause a commotion in a different canyon, disguising the movements of his convoy. He might, he might, he might… But only if he is absolutely clear on Commander’s Intent, and not working according to an explicit tasked item only.
Managers love to create detailed rules and procedures. But these can actually stifle innovation. Commander’s Intent is the life hack by which we get the upper hand again, freeing up leeway for creative potential.
3Instead of rules: Imaginative debate
Organisations accumulate rules over time. Problematically, rules can become a form of culture. And there is a better way.
When NASA faced two separate, well-known challenges, their culture at each stage was very different.
In 1970, Apollo 13 was two days into its mission when an explosion knocked out one of their oxygen tanks. The ensuing creative scramble to get the astronauts safely home is the stuff of legend. The creative trial and experimentation that went into rescuing them was formidable. New procedures were made up back on earth, then tested in the simulator, then relayed to the astronauts 200 000 miles away, almost in real-time.
Through this process of creative trial and experimentation, of collaborative inter-disciplinary debate, one by one the issues were resolved and the crew was brought home safely.
At this point in time, NASA’s culture was ruled by imaginative debate. It was an exploratory culture, an experimenting culture, a culture based on learning and evolution.
By contrast, at the time of the Columbia disaster of 2003, the culture of experimentation had given way to one of formalised rules, regimented procedures and rigid hierarchy. NASA had stopped being a learning organisation. It had become a bureaucracy instead.
As Columbia re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and broke the wing of the spacecraft. The shuttle broke into pieces. NASA recovered 84 000 pieces from a debris field of over 2 000 square miles.
The investigation revealed some damning insights about the culture that led to the problem.
During a post-launch review, a group of engineers actually saw this foam dislodge from the rocket. They tried to pass on this information. NASA’s management, which by this stage liked to manage everything ‘by the rules’, had seen dislodged foam before, and, according to their institutionalised perceptions, deemed it to be unimportant.
The engineers tried to argue that it seemed like a lot more foam than usual. It was a qualitative argument, based on human insight and intelligence. But NASA was unable to listen. Dislodging foam was a known quantity, and the voices of dissenters went unheeded.
NASA by this stage was so bound in rules and procedures that, in important ways, it had ceased to be a learning, experimenting culture. And that made it incapable of hearing an idea, to its great detriment.
Imaginative debate allows situational awareness to pass up and down the chain of command. It promotes the opportunity to see innovation possibilities. It shows up problems that fall outside of the capacity of norms and guidelines.
The Israeli Defence Force uses an examination of these two cultures within NASA as a way of perpetuating a learning culture within its own organisation. In Start-Up Nation, Israeli air-force pilot Tal Keinan is quoted as saying that if NASA had stuck to their experimental culture, the way his own air force and military do, they would have identified and seriously debated the foam strikes at the daily debrief.
Debating everything isn’t tedious. It’s illuminating.
Putting rules in place of debate isn’t clarifying. It’s dulling.
Rigid rules enforced by unlearning authority are a recipe for real danger. The use of strenuous debate helps to overcome these blind spots.
Cultures of learning are far more idea-friendly than bureaucracies. And it costs nothing to become one. Merely a little willingness.
To Have An Innovative Company, Let Your Employees Take The Reins
‘In order to clean, they need to get messy,’ serial entrepreneur Justin Klosky tells Entrepreneur’s editor-in-chief Jason Feifer.
An innovative company starts with an innovative team. And what’s the best way to innovate? Give your employees the freedom to run with their own ideas, then manage the chaos later. At least that’s what Reid Hoffman believes.
“If you want your company to innovate, your job is to manage the chaos,” says the co-founder of LinkedIn, partner at VC firm Greylock and host of Masters of Scale, a podcast series examining counterintuitive theories to growing a company.
Hoffman’s theory doesn’t seem too far-fetched either. In fact, he’s not the only person who thinks giving employees the freedom to think and create on their own triggers innovation.
“When [people] have that ability to explore and innovate without the pressure of failing, you’re setting yourself up for a ‘win’ situation, because you’re going to get the best out of somebody,” Justin Klosky, founder of professional organizing company O.C.D. Experience, tells Entrepreneur’s editor-in-chief, Jason Feifer, in a video.
Although, when you’re empowering employees with this much freedom, you’ve got to be hiring people you trust. This can be easier said than done. Rather than dissecting a person’s resume, Klosky recommends digging deeper and asking prospective employees questions that will really open them up – anything from who they are, where they’re going and what brought them here.
After you’ve hired a group of honest, intelligent employees, now what? Don’t tell them how to innovate. Instead, let them figure that out on their own. Allow employees to do what they do best, return to you with their results and from there manage the chaos.
“In order to clean, they need to get messy,” says Klosky.
For more insights and advice about managing an innovative culture, check out the video.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Do You Know How To Stay Relevant?
In this tough economic climate, you need to start focusing on business areas you can control. The ability to stay agile and relevant is in your hands.
We have seen huge changes in South Africa recently. Just five years ago, we had a thriving platinum mining sector, good exports of commodities, no e-tolls, a rand dollar rate of better than 8:1 and peaceful universities.
All that has changed, with a significant effect on our SME sector. Imports cost more, finance is expensive and socio-political and labour issues disrupt business frequently.
Customers have changed too; many buyers now complete over 60% of the sale by Internet research. They make comparisons, shortlist potential suppliers and only ask for quotations when they are close to deciding on their supplier.
You could’ve fallen off the shortlist and didn’t even know it
Your company could have been a potential supplier and then fallen off the shortlist without you ever knowing about the lost opportunity. Customers no longer rely on sales staff to provide information about products and applications, and even the least tech-savvy customer checks prices and specifications online.
24/7 availability is now expected, and long delivery times become unacceptable. Customers assume you will be able to slot in unplanned orders efficiently. Loyalty is no longer a given; buyers will move to suppliers who provide better value, even if that supplier is overseas.
Lead through quality
Entrepreneurs should recognise that the way we have done business in the past might need modification; there is a risk of being overtaken by more agile competitors. Uber, Airbnb and Netflix are great examples of competitors changing the rules.
What is happening in your markets? What are your competitors doing? Do not just accept feedback from your staff — they are also in their comfort zones. Research competitors and new technologies; ask customers what they would like to see you change.
If you make a decision to update your business, there are several areas you could focus on to build a more agile business that gives better value for money. Technology, quality, customer service, IT, Internet presence, continuous learning and strategy review are among those. A few of the vital ones include:
- Use available technology. Check prices and terms from alternate suppliers, investigate IT solutions to provide flexible manufacturing systems, optimise inventory and give better response times for customer enquiries.
A good CRM system can track complaints, give basic data to spot new market trends and identify customers starting to move away from you. Develop apps to improve customer convenience or optimise sales calls.
- Increase quality in all respects, from your products to the accuracy of your invoices. Spend money on quality systems and business processes. You will get it all back in direct and indirect savings by having less comebacks of all types. Better quality in all respects increases your value proposition, and helps to justify your price.
Overhaul your customer service. Set improvement targets for order fulfilment, right first time repairs, shorter lead times, more convenient customer interfaces and all the other elements of great customer service. Then put plans in place and implement them. Financial returns will follow.
You need an effective and integrated Internet presence, with rich content, which means useful short pieces, not lots of content. Your social media presence must be integrated and support your brand and value proposition. Do not follow trends blindly because everyone thinks they are cool.
Revisit your strategy
Your company must be agile enough to change strategies and tactics to take advantage of market and competitor changes, rather than seeing them as threats. An outside facilitator helps.
All of this sounds like a lot of work and expense, but right now you may be using large chunks of time and money fixing errors, working around old systems, losing customers you should not lose and not getting new customers you should get. Stop all that and you will have time and money to create the new agile and informed company you could be, and stay relevant in your markets.
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