The thought of expanding your business overseas can be daunting. On the one hand, you’re ready to flex your global marketing muscles and reach new clients. However, there’s a lot to organize, and you want to avoid as many pitfalls as possible.
Plenty of companies face entry barriers to international markets but can overcome them with enough research and expert assistance. Lowering some of the obstacles that exist, such as language and cultural differences, is certainly easier with a guide map. Below we discuss four ways to lessen common difficulties businesses encounter when undergoing international expansions.
1. Enlist the Help of Locals
Language and cultural barriers present formidable challenges to global expansion efforts. Everything from successful ad copy to business practices relies on a mutual understanding of cultural contexts. Simple miscommunications can easily snowball into something that ends up hurting your chances of gaining ground in a new market.
Hiring specialists who are local or native to the area will help you avoid these types of missteps. If bringing full-time employees on board isn’t feasible, you can pay international contractors for their guidance and expertise. Whether it’s a team of employees or independent contractors, they can point out seemingly minor — but actually significant — nuances beforehand.
Things like slang words, translation errors, cultural observances, and consumer expectations will be easier to navigate with natives to direct you. Even if you speak the same language as your target market, there can be significant differences between words and cultural preferences. For example, it’s not unusual for consumers in the U.S. to refer to pancakes as flapjacks. But in the U.K., the word means something entirely different. Across the pond, flapjacks are flat oatmeal snack bars.
2. Seek Guidance on Taxes and Regulations
It’s a given that the rules of business aren’t going to look exactly like the tax and compliance codes back home. Before you enter a market, you’ll need the help of a lawyer and tax specialist well-versed in local compliance issues. How your business pays tariffs and fees, adheres to payroll and labor laws, and files taxes will inevitably vary between countries.
Staying compliant with foreign and domestic requirements will also depend on your expansion strategy. Licensing and franchising in international markets involve a different level of investment and participation than a joint venture. Most likely, your business will want to partner with lawyers and tax specialists from your home country and prospective market. You’ll be able to coordinate and stay in compliance with regulations that may apply in each nation.
Lawyers and tax specialists could also point out whether the tariff barriers in a particular market are reasonable. Tariffs and fees on certain imports sometimes exist to discourage international competition and global trade. They can also serve as a means of political pressure between governments and nations engaged in a conflict. Higher tariffs on your company’s products might be a temporary or ongoing situation. It’s essential to know the financial and competitive stakes.
3. Address Supply Chain Risks
The recent problems with the global supply chain highlight some of the barriers and risks associated with international trade. Product shortages, halts in the manufacturing of smartphones and appliances, and a lack of labor have caused widespread concern. Consumers accustomed to buying whatever they need or want on a whim have had to adjust. But so have companies that rely on global manufacturing sites and the ability to ship products overseas.
By its nature, expanding into international markets involves moving products and delivering services over greater distances. For products, it also entails moving through border and port authorities.
Even when worldwide supply chains aren’t compromised by the effects of a pandemic, your business will face risks. Your company could experience problems with delayed or lost shipments, or a manufacturing facility could receive damaged raw materials or supplies. Having to wait for replacements could set back your production schedule by weeks, inconveniencing consumers ready to buy your products.
Contingency planning for supply chain disruptions isn’t something you want to skimp on. Researching average shipment times, customs regulations, and issues competitors have faced will only get you so far. Document and outline how your business will respond to supply chain risks, including making budgetary provisions for your proposed workarounds.
4. Account for Fluctuating Exchange Rates
Since currency exchange rates never stay the same, multinational businesses face some degree of financial risk when selling goods overseas. Pricing strategies, supply and shipping costs, and labor expenses are more difficult to manage. You can’t assume that the value of a U.S. dollar in another country will be the same tomorrow. While variable exchange rates can work in your favor, they might also cause your business to sustain losses.
Creating buffers within budgets and pricing strategies is one way to address shifting currency values. By monitoring annual exchange rate trends and predictions, your business can set competitive prices and wages without going too low. Establishing a contingency fund for exchange rate fluctuations is another way to protect your company against potential losses.
Contingency funds are especially important if the market you’re expanding into shows signs of volatility. It’s impractical to halt shipments or stop paying your employees because exchange rate shifts have suddenly made doing business more expensive. Make evaluating exchange rate trends and volatility part of your pre-expansion research and planning. Determine whether your business can financially handle the risks or whether another market would be more feasible.
Any business venture carries risks, but the stakes are higher with international expansions due to differences in cultures, languages, and regulations. Logistics and exchange rates present additional difficulties that companies might overlook during the planning process.
Fortunately, lowering these barriers is possible with local partnerships, regulatory guidance, and due diligence. With proper preparation and a sound strategy, your business can confidently expand into international markets.