6 Tips For Successful Global Expansion

Exporting is an opportunity that many small and medium sized firms should be taking advantage of to expand and grow to their full potential. Yet, fewer firms are exporting than one would expect. For instance, in this 2013 Canadian study, less than 2 per cent of such businesses are exporting. At the same time, recent import and export figures at the United States’ largest port, the Port of Los Angeles, point to considerably lower export volume than in previous decades.

These figures are mirrored in the U.S. by McKinsey’s Global Institute study, which points at a mere 5% of businesses exporting. But there is growth. According to the report, “Global flows are growing and contribute to GDP growth. Flows of goods, services, and finance in 2012 reached $26 trillion, or 36 percent of global GDP — 1.5 times as large relative to GDP as they were in 1990.”

With such a low percentage of firms exporting goods there is huge opportunity abroad — a gap that will likely be filled as the global economy recovers.

The Globe And Mail’s Michelle Little, in a recent article, also points out the high potential for returns by “creating a borderless product, networking to make key contacts abroad and embracing technology to both reduce costs and reach out to potential clients.” According to the Globe article, one firm to take advantage of export opportunities was Imprint Plus, specializing in name badge systems and boasting 35,000 customers in 75 countries. But it wasn’t always so: The firm can attribute much of its success to a strategic shift. When CEO Marla Kott saw the opportunity, she made the decision to refocus the business in a much more international direction.

Other firms, including Foxy Originals and Procurify.com, have realized similarly successful results by leveraging a global strategy.

As Ms. Little writes, “With a whole world outside our Canadian borders, opportunities are there for those willing to embrace technology, create key social networks and see past the headaches of patent infringement and ever-changing regulations.”

And, Imprint Plus’ Ms. Kott provides the following six strategic tips for businesses seeking to expand globally and leverage the potential of an international market:

  1. Innovate and create mighty products or services that are unique.
  2. Do an extensive competitive analysis and don’t stop at the U.S.
  3. Speak to prospective customers.
  4. Be fearless and look at money spent attending trade shows as education funding.
  5. Educate yourself continuously through government programs, trade commissioners, and business intelligence.
  6. Join an international networking organization.

For the complete article, see Three Companies Offer Advice for Successful Global Expansion in The Globe And Mail.

Should I Outsource?

Should I Outsource? The pros and cons of outsourcing are significant, as are the potential gains for companies that are successful. This short video introduces some of the ways outsourcing can be a boon to growth and efficiency, but also points out how important it is to make the right strategic decisions about sourcing.

With outsourcing, we can speed up our operations, lower our costs, and even open up entire new markets. But we don’t want to become one of the nightmare stories you hear about.

Outsource For The Right Reasons

Apple could never have become one of the world’s richest companies if it had not expanded outside the United States. With outsourcing we can automate our business processes, so that we don’t need a large internal staff, or we can turn to China for incredible manufacturing capacity. We can put offices around the world and have 24 hour operations by following the sun. We can even bring on board an entire new department overnight, if we need to.

But, it’s easy to make mistakes. Business culture is very important, and incompatible business culture leads to problems. For example, Audi recently had to recall thousands of cars because their Chinese manufacturer had substituted a substandard material, and gas pedals started snapping off.

It’s important to realize that different cultures and different markets are better suited to particular needs. Cost, quality and skill varies around the world. Technology is strong in China, but intellectual property protection is not. Apple gained huge advances by engaging with Foxconn in China but, 24 hours later, there were clone iPhones popping up on the market.

Multiple cultures bring complexity. And it’s important to remember that America is pretty isolated. Most of the world focuses on building very strong long term relationships. It’s those relationships that protect your business. Trusted relationships are key, and in most of the world, it’s more important to have experience and a trusted relationship than to have a written contract.