Tips to Consider in an International Expansion Strategy

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When circumstances align, and a business is ready to push its boundaries, you can better ensure your success through the following strategies.

1. Remember to Audit

An internal business audit provides the foundation for smooth, successful expansion. It’s your metaphorical roadmap, one that addresses every turn, pit stop, and potential speedbump before your business takes the overseas plunge.

Your internal business audit should be detail-oriented and comprehensive, including stakeholders from across your entire organization, from operations to sales to finance to IT. Each of these domains will need to scale up and align to help overseas branches thrive. Each department’s insights and infrastructure must be reviewed, feasibility tested, and then tweaked to work in the new market. These steps take time and attention. Copying and pasting domestic processes onto international ones and expecting identical results almost never works.

Perform the following internal business audits to prevent “one-size-fits-all” expansion woes.

  • Market segmentation, identifying and then classifying target customer pools in a new country or culture based on values, beliefs, lifestyle, and income
  • Gap analysis, to see if the products or service your business provides is currently underserved in a market
  • Product and service value alignment, navigating cultural nuances to ensure your overseas clients perceive your business the right way
  • A SWOT analysis, lending a numbers-backed look into the actual sales and revenue potential of target market expansion

2. Strike While It’s Hot

As the saying goes, your reputation precedes you. Expanding internationally is easiest to achieve when your domestic market share and brand perceptions are stable and robust.

A solid domestic foundation is the cornerstone of new initiatives and new efforts. Overseas markets will still have access to your core market impressions, your PR initiatives, and the way your customers generally perceive how you conduct business. Your company carries a reputation with it wherever it goes. Make sure it’s a positive one.

Note “striking while it’s hot” doesn’t mean rushing. A complete international expansion strategy will take months of preemptive research and work to get off the ground. It’ll take even more time to begin implementing in stages along set dates, benchmarks, and checkpoints.

3. The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Get the Worm

“First-movers” are businesses with products or services that are the first of their kind in a new market. This expansion type can be a never-before-seen good, genuinely unique and without clear competition. Or, it can be disruptive, reinventing how consumers view or interact with an established service altogether.

First-mover overseas plans are often aggressive, fueled by the onus that being the first means establishing — and then dominating — international market shares and leaving latecomers to pick up the crumbs.

However, business innovation isn’t formulaic — which is both good and bad. The best foreign expansion strategies are adaptive and thoughtful — requiring diligence, nuance, commitment, detailed resource planning, and buy-in from cross-departmental executives and stakeholders. Don’t sacrifice these things for speed.

4. Match Your Business Model with Your Mode of Entry

Business models comprise the operational, interpersonal, and revenue workings of your organization, alongside how its value-adding products or services get created. In short, business models show you what makes your organization tick.

But business models are not monolithic. Processes that flow smoothly in your home country won’t necessarily transplant into another. What’s more, there will be new organizational hierarchies to structure, new product or service resources to identify, and new employees to hire and classify — each bringing unique culture and expectations into the mix.

All this means an international expansion strategy must include an adapted business model that does two things simultaneously:

  • Aligns with a foreign market’s projected value (i.e. why you chose to expand there). These reasons could include cost-effective product production, an expanded customer base, refreshing a product’s lifecycle, or even for the new market’s tax incentives, to name a few.
  • Aligns with that new foreign market’s actual culture and practices

A business model with these objectives in mind is a business model that’ll work across international expansion.