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How To Successfully Open An International Office

Moving into new markets can be a strong growth plan, but the foundation of international growth requires the business to maintain the same company culture across different regions.

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As a South African expat, I always wanted to expand my digital marketing business from London to Cape Town. After eight years of hard work in the UK and European markets, TopLine Comms was ready and we opened our South African office in 2015. The usual logistics, like setting up local bank accounts, finding office space and hiring staff, were time-consuming tasks but by no means unfamiliar and they were soon sorted.

A far bigger challenge awaited us, which was figuring out how to integrate our new South African colleagues and maintain the company’s culture between two teams across two continents.

Business growth is exciting but you have to put your people first and make sure everyone feels united as a team — regardless of geography.

The following principles are universal for anyone thinking of opening up a second office, wherever it may be.

Why open an office overseas?

Expanding TopLine abroad into South Africa made both personal and professional sense, but I knew that for the move to be successful, it needed a solid business case.

An undeniable benefit of opening an office abroad is that it gives you access to a whole new pool of talent. This boosts your business with a broader range of skills, experience, ideas, languages, culture and networks. It also adds an attractive employment proposition, offering employees the opportunity to gain overseas work experience.

Related: Mitigating Currency Exchange Risk For International Businesses in South Africa

Opening a new office anywhere in the world is primarily driven by the need to scale and tap into lucrative new markets. Our office in Cape Town is more than just a resource hub that supports our London team and services our UK and European client base. It also gives us the opportunity to target the local market.

How do you open an office overseas?

Stay connected

business-connection

Connection is the word and without today’s technology, TopLine would have stayed put in London. A good, fast, reliable Internet connection is essential to doing business across borders — and to keeping our teams in Cape Town and London working together seamlessly. Skype is an amazing tool but a call can quickly become awkward between colleagues or with a client, if the connection is bad and neither person can hear the other properly.

Regular check-ins, meetings and calls are important for bringing people together across offices. They help forge stronger ties between colleagues and bring the whole team closer to the business. A poor connection can therefore be incredibly frustrating and ineffective, ultimately wasting everyone’s time with limited results.

The right technology is a non-negotiable in our modern working world — offices need to have great Internet to stay connected to one another, especially if they’re using cloud-based services.

The cloud makes it easier than ever before to set up an office overseas, and South African businesses are increasingly starting to embrace it. Cloud-based services are cost effective, efficient and they make it easy for employees to access all the information they need from anywhere in the world at any time. The best way to facilitate easy working between offices is without a doubt to keep your company data in the cloud. Collaboration is simple; everyone can work together from the same page and all documents are updated in real-time so there’s no confusion around which version of what is latest.


Tools

Some well-known cloud-based services include Google Drive for sharing and storing documents, Asana for task management, Trello for communication and Xero for accounting and financial management. These are just a few of many — whatever your business need, the cloud can help you do it better.


Communicate

A lot of communication is non-verbal and relies on facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and attitude. Long distance communication doesn’t have any of these elements which makes it very easy for misunderstandings to happen. A simple misunderstanding can be swiftly fixed when you’re in the same room. If you’re miles apart though, it can fester into something enormous and cause unnecessary issues.

Related: 3 Signs Your Business Is Ready To Expand Internationally

With two or more offices in different countries, there will inevitably be cultural differences — even if everyone speaks the same language. These differences are interesting and important to the personality of your company but they can cause some communication issues that you might not be initially aware of. The South African ‘just now’ for example, is a lot looser than its literal meaning and in the UK, business communication can be quite direct and to the point. If you’ve never met the person behind the emails, you might take their words the wrong way.


Top Tip

The best way to avoid this is with regular phone calls, emails and Skype sessions. We’ve found that sending an internal email out each Friday with positive updates from the week has been good for staff morale. Communication doesn’t always have to be work related so encourage your employees across the different offices to get in touch from time to time to just ‘shoot the breeze’ and get to know each other.


Consistency

business-consistency

A consistent on-boarding process is key to instilling your company culture across multiple offices. It’s so easy to forget that what is second nature to you is completely unknown to your new employees and colleagues in an overseas office. Starting a new job always involves taking in a lot of information in the first few months which is made doubly overwhelming when the new employee is latitude lines away from most of their colleagues. A comprehensive manual that outlines everything they need to know is critical. It needs to be a completely user-friendly welcome pack that covers all the essentials like where to find certain documents, usernames, passwords and file naming conventions.

At TopLine we give our new-starters an action-packed schedule for their first two weeks — or longer depending on their level of skill and experience. In that time, they get to ‘meet’ the whole team, are introduced to all the accounts we work on and specifically the business that pertains to their role. We make sure that the whole process is managed by a senior employee who checks in every few days to ensure that the new employee is coping and getting to grips with everything and everyone okay. It also gives them a chance to voice any concerns or ask questions.

As amazing as technology is, real relationships are made in person. If you’ve hired new people to staff your new office abroad, then you need to get on a plane as soon as possible to go out and meet them. It’s good to make a few trips a year but it doesn’t always have to be you. Give other senior colleagues a chance to meet the new team and experience their working day in their office environment.


Top Tip

I’ve personally spent many months at a stretch working from the Cape Town office and other UK team members have visited for a few weeks at a time. It immediately strengthens the connection between our two offices and puts a face to a name, avatar or screen image.


The benefits of successfully expanding your business into new territories can be significant. Of course, to do this well, you need to have the right people working together with as little frustration as possible. Make sure your employees are sharing, talking and interacting as much as possible — the greater the collaboration, the stronger and more successful your business will be.

A consistent on-boarding process is key to instilling your company culture across multiple offices. It’s so easy to forget that what is second nature to you is completely unknown to your new employees and colleagues in an overseas office.


Key Insights

Understand why you are scaling your business

A Cape Town office is a valuable resource hub that services a UK and European client base, with lower fixed overheads. It also provides the opportunity to target the local market.

Make use of smart tools in the cloud to collaborate across continents

Having offices across multiple geographic locations is possible because of cloud technology — not only because it facilitates communication, but because it allows for seamless collaboration. If all company documents are securely stored in the cloud, it doesn’t matter where team members are based.

On-boarding is essential to maintain company culture

A consistent on-boarding process is an essential element of creating and maintaining your company culture across multiple offices. Take the time to create a successful and consistent on-boarding system.

 

Heather Baker is the CEO and founder of Topline Comms, based in the UK and South Africa. She is a digital communications specialist, HubSpotter, blogger, and served as the president of the UK chapter of Entrepreneur’s Organisation in 2014 and 2015.

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Got An Awesome New Business Idea? Here’s What To Do Next

If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, the first step is to focus on two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘Who?’

Syed Balkhi

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Do you constantly have great business ideas which fall to the wayside because you just don’t know how to turn those daydreams into reality? If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, that’s probably because you don’t know what to do next.

Around 550 000 people, according to the Kauffman start-up index, become entrepreneurs each month and you could be one of them. While there’s no guaranteed formula to starting a successful business, there are steps to take in the planning phase that will not only help you determine if your business idea has what it takes but help you get the ball rolling, too.

Sound like you? Here’s what to do next.

Determine the “why” and the “who”

The first step to take after you’ve come up with a new business idea is to concentrate on the “why” and “who” of it. You may think you’ve thought up an awesome idea, but your business won’t be successful if you don’t know the real reasons behind why it’s a good solution, and whom it would be a good solution for.

Start to really think about what problem your business idea solves. Your business may solve a problem for you, but does it solve a problem for others? If nobody else has the problem that your business proposes a solution for, then who will buy that solution?

After you’ve taken a deep dive into why your business is needed in the first place, determine who will be the target audience of your business. Think about the demographics of your target audience, what’s important to these people and how you will reach them. You can use a free tool like Hubspot’s Make My Persona to get detailed about who your ideal customers are. A business isn’t a business without customers, after all.

Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!

Search for similar solutions

No business idea is 100 percent unique; there will always be businesses out in the world that are similar to yours. So, don’t sweat it if there are companies doing what you do; in fact, that proves there’s a market for what you do. What you do have to think about is who your competition will be, what exactly they are providing and what you will do differently or better than they do.

To stand out from the competition, you will need to know what sets you apart. Start doing research on the companies that could become your competition. Look at how much they charge, who their target audience is and how they market to them, to name just a few research points. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but do look at what these companies are lacking in and how you can improve upon those areas in your business, so that you capture their customers.

Talk to your potential customers

Similar to your efforts to study your potential competition should be your effort to study potential customers. Get out there and start talking with your target audience. See if your product or service is something they would use, find out how much they would pay for it and ask what comparable product or business they’re using now to solve the problem.

You could even get super in-depth and ask people to fill out a survey providing answers that will help you get to know your audience even better. Even negative feedback about your business idea can help you refine your idea.

Lock down the details of your business

Coming up with a new business idea is exciting; your mind is probably buzzing with lots of plans and designs – maybe too many. So, sit back and lock down the finer details of your business. Will you be offering a product or a service? How much will it cost? How will you be marketing your business? You need to know your new business concept inside and out before you launch. A great and easy way to organise your thoughts is to use a business plan software like LivePlan.

Also, if you haven’t named your business yet, now’s the time to do it. Do some brainstorming and come up with a name that no one else has already taken.

Related: 20 Quick Money-Making Business Ideas

Determine the “how”

After you’ve worked out all the details of your future business, the next step is to figure out how to turn your dream into a reality. Obviously starting a business costs quite a bit of money, so that’s one of the major “how” factors you need to consider. Decide if you’ll talk to investors, take out a loan, or maybe even start a Kickstarter campaign.

Determine everything you’ll need to get your business up and running. For instance, if you’re offering a product, how will you build it and how much money will it cost? This last step is one of the most important in order to take your business from out of your head and into the real world.

Over to you

What are you waiting for? By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to starting your very own company. If you take the time to plan out your new business idea, you won’t just build a business, you’ll build a successful one.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Why Entrepreneurs Are Constantly Distracted (And 6 Ways To Fight Back)

Once thrown off track, a worker needs 23 minutes, on average, to get back to the original task. What could you have done in that 23 minutes?

Anna Johansson

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If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you find yourself struggling with distractions on a regular basis. Whether it’s an email notification, a meeting or a new emergency to deal with, every distraction can potentially pull you away from whatever project you’re working on. And that’s not good because, according to Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, “Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task.”

So, why are entrepreneurs so susceptible to distraction and what steps can they – and you – take to fight back against this vulnerability?

The susceptibility of entrepreneurs

Here are just a few of the reasons why entrepreneurs are more prone to distraction than other professionals:

The entrepreneurial mind. Entrepreneurs are innovators and thinkers by nature. They often specialise in multiple disciplines, and are forced to deal with problems in multiple departments at once. This style of thinking lends itself to multitasking and “shiny object syndrome,” the tendency to jump quickly from one focus to another.

Busy environments. Startups are notoriously busy. There’s a lot to do and not many people to do it, so entrepreneurs are forced to step in and juggle multiple responsibilities at once. Subordinates and partners may also need frequent assistance, with tasks like attendance at meetings or clarification on the plans they devise.

Tech tools. Entrepreneurs also frequently invest in high-tech tools to make them more efficient (and help them keep up with the competition), but those tools in and of themselves can also be distracting. For example, your smartphone ensures you’re always connected, but its constant notifications can pull you away from your most important responsibilities.

Related: Distractions Are Hurting You More Than You Realise: Here’s Why

How to stay focused

So, what can you do to improve your focus? Here are six ideas:

1. Try focus apps. While technology can hinder your ability to stay focused, it can also enhance it if you know what to do. Try downloading focus-oriented apps that have the power to block out distractions for you. Some apps allow you to create schedules, so you can block access to certain apps or websites outside of certain parameters.

Others allow you to set timers and gain more visibility into how you’re spending your time. Either way, this technology can improve your focus and diligence.

2. Do one thing at a time. It’s tempting to work on multiple projects at the same time, especially when you have tight deadlines to work with, but it’s universally better to focus on one thing at a time. Jeff Bezos, for example, avoids multitasking at all costs, instead narrowing his focus to one problem or one task before moving on to the next one. This requires tremendous self-discipline in some cases, but once you’re used to the process, it becomes easier.

3. Disconnect periodically. Many modern distractions are rooted to the technology we use or to our proximity to other people. We get a phone call, an email, an instant message notification or even a knock on our door, and our focus is completely broken.

To remedy this, schedule specific hours during the day (or days during the week) when you can disconnect entirely and focus on your work. During this time, turn off notifications and let your staff know that you’re unavailable; then, you can work heads-down as you see fit.

Related: 6 Keys to Employee Engagement During Times of Distraction

4. Know what your secondary priorities are. You’ll always have a long list of things to accomplish and tasks to complete, but you can’t make everything a top priority. Instead, spend time deciding what your secondary and less important priorities are.

Warren Buffett, for example, keeps a “not to do list” that keeps track of things worth pursuing that aren’t worthy at a specific time of his focus, his time or his budget. Staying organised this way can help remind you what’s most important and keep you from spending too much time on those secondary priorities.

5. Specialise instead of generalise. Also consider how you’re spending your time and optimise it so you spend more time doing what you do best. Elon Musk, for example, has stated that “At Tesla, we’ve never spent any money on advertising. We’ve put all our money into R&D, engineering, design and manufacturing to build the best car possible. When we consider spending money, we ask, ‘Will this create a better product?’ If not, we don’t proceed with spending the money.”

6. Consider hiring an assistant or delegating responsibilities. This way, you can focus on tasks that have the highest value and you aren’t distracted when doing them.

It takes time to break your bad habits and create an environment necessary to work distraction-free (or as close to distraction-free as you can get), but it’s worth the investment of time and money. Don’t let chronic distractions sabotage your chances of finding success.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Enterprise Supplier Development (ESD) Provides Opportunity For Entrepreneurs

LFP Training offers ESD support services such as the implementation of sustainable supplier development programmes, profiling and analysis of your supplier database, enabling procurement opportunities for EME’s through collaboration and partnerships and promoting the upskilling of EMEs and facilities the quality of services provided.

Jacolien Botha

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LFP Training’s team spends a lot of time educating businesses on the benefits of BEE. As an entrepreneurial venture, the company understands that you have worked hard to build your brand and as such, BEE should strengthen your position the market.

AJ Jordaan, LFP Training’s National Sales Manager says that while Skills Development remains the most cost-effective, productive and mutually beneficial way to gain points whilst improving the performance of your staff, ESD is too a critical component of the scorecard.

“By partnering with a BEE compliant business, companies can claim additional points towards Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD),” says AJ.

Both ESD and Skills Development initiatives cover large portions of the scorecard in total so it’s vital to score well overall. “Furthermore, ESD is one of the priority elements of BEE and failing to comply with the subminimum requirements will result in your company being discounted a level”.

In a country where entrepreneurship is recognised as a catalyst for growth, ESD helps small businesses to thrive by gaining access to opportunities through its attractive BEE status. “This in turn helps to ensure the sustainability and success of such businesses in South Africa”.

ESD is a combination of preferential procurement, supplier diversity and development and enterprise development programs used to service a business’s needs.

Trading has never been more attractive and ESD contributions can take on many forms. “While some people are still very cynical about BEE, ESD is not based on the value of a contract given to a black business but rather the contributions towards technical help, the transfer of knowledge and skills, operating cash flow, loans and/or investments.”

AJ does warn that while this is a great benefit of being compliant, in an instance where two companies supply the exact same service, the company with the higher BEE recognition will most likely secure the business. “Here, a customer will partner with the company with a higher rating as they earn more points towards preferential procurement under ESD.”

“Today we are seeing some companies penalising a supplier when dropping a level as it influences their scores on ESD so its once again vital to maintain your current BEE level or to improve” AJ continues.

“There are a host of benefits to making sure that businesses align their efforts to compliant businesses, these include; an improved BEE rating, gaining a competitive advantage and reducing costs, supporting a compliant business, a strong and positive association for your business with a compliant business” says AJ.

LFP Training offers ESD support services such as the implementation of sustainable supplier development programmes, profiling and analysis of your supplier database, enabling procurement opportunities for EME’s through collaboration and partnerships and promoting the upskilling of EMEs and facilities the quality of services provided.

Read next: Enterprise Development Programmes For Black Entrepreneurs

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