Deciding whether to expand your business internationally is one of the toughest and most important decisions any business owner will make. There are numerous examples of British firms successfully exporting their products and services abroad, but the road to international expansion is also littered with casualties.
While other countries offer the promise of new and lucrative markets, exporting your business into unfamiliar territories can feel like a leap into the unknown. However, in my view, successfully exporting a business abroad isn’t down to luck, it’s about being prepared and keeping the following front of mind:
Do your research
Take the time to fully grasp the laws and regulations of your target market. All countries have restrictions about how and when foreign companies can operate within their borders. They will also have different regulations governing your specific industry – no country will be the same. Make sure you’re clear about what each country’s regulations mean for your business from the outset, it will avoid a lot of heartache in the long run.
Find the right partner
Many companies looking to trade abroad will need to find a trading partner which operates within their target market. The right partner will bring local knowledge, a network of contacts and a proven track record in your industry, so making the right match is crucial. As they will be representing your brand abroad and will be responsible for its reputation it’s vital – particularly in the area of healthcare – that you and your trading partner share and operate by the same values. It is also important that the contract between you is watertight, leaving no room for misunderstanding.
Access expert help
There are a bewildering array of factors to consider when looking to export into new markets, so avoid the pitfalls and take advantage of the expert help available. Consider using the services of an organisation such as UK Trade & Investment, which helps UK based companies looking to grow their business overseas. Its services include free advice from an international trade adviser as well as help to identify and vet potential trading partners. There is a huge amount of helpful information out there and much of the hard work has already been done for you.
A consequence of globalisation is that it’s likely you’ll be entering an already competitive marketplace where a number of other British firms already have a foothold. It’s essential therefore that you create standout and are seen as offering something unique and different to customers as well as potential partners. Understand what the market is looking for and ensure you can deliver it as well as bring something new. While a number of other UK firms offer stem cell banking abroad for example, we offer a range of innovative services such stem cell storage from teeth and peripheral blood which make us stand out and give us a vital advantage.
Be prepared to travel
You can’t expand abroad by sitting behind a desk in the UK. Although international travel is expensive and time consuming it is an investment that needs to be made. You will only understand the country, the people and your target market if you spend time there getting to know them. As well as ensuring you’re there to help drive the business forward, your presence will send a clear signal to your partners and customers that they are your priority. Being on the ground means that you will also be able to spot any issues before they become problems.
Respect cultural differences
When looking to trade in a particular country, ensure you observe and respect the local culture. Cultural practices dictate anything from how someone should be greeted through to when and how it is appropriate to talk about business. What is considered rude in one culture may not raise an eyebrow in another and distinctions can be very subtle. Avoid unwittingly giving offence by taking the time to familiarise yourself with a country’s cultural landscape before trying to do business there.
Stephen Baines is commercial director of Precious Cells Group, one of the UK’s leading providers of stem cell banking and regenerative medicine technologies, is responsible for the company’s recent and rapid international expansion. The Group operates in 12 countries around the world and has plans to double its international presence by the end of this year.