Vladimir Lupenko, CEO and Co-Founder of Impress
In today’s digitally empowered business climate, ambitious companies are not held back by national borders. But moving from a domestic company to a global success can be difficult; it isn’t just about expanding to international markets — but succeeding in them, too.
Having gone through an international expansion with my orthodontics company, I’ve learned that, overall, you will need to build a strong digital base before starting to scale. There’s no single model on how to run or expand a business, but there are a few things you should consider before getting started.
Gather your data.
Scaling and expanding your business abroad will be tempting. But it will only pay off if you understand the key operational economics that drive your business — the heartbeat of the company. You will need to be ready to track, decide and improve them every single day. So first, you will need data.
For example, after opening our first set of clinics in Spain, my team realized how important it was to track operational effectiveness and maximize the use of our assets. That’s why we built our current software stack together with an extremely detailed data system to control every single event in the customer journey. Now, we can track any activity and medical event that happens inside clinics and ensure we deliver the best customer experience for patients.
Establish your decision-making processes.
Once you have data and metrics, you must build decision-making processes for every business area: marketing, operations, sales, expansion. If this is done daily, that’s even better. Scaling is challenging, but you will be more likely to navigate successfully through new market constraints and emerge stronger when you have clear decision-making processes ironed out.
Develop your online presence.
Your online presence should be at its most dominant before any international expansion is considered. Brick and mortar investments are risky, but for some business models, it’s essential. Wherever possible, reduce your investment risk by building a hybrid model, and prioritize the digitalization of your marketing, online bookings and in-store operations. This places less emphasis on the location itself and ensures the business continues to be efficient. Think about how customers in new markets will find you; accessibility is paramount.
Focus on one market at a time.
It’s important to only tap into foreign markets when you are ready. So, conquer your domestic market first, and ensure your product/service is clear and people know where to find you. Spreading your team too thin and overwhelming them will only have a negative impact on morale. Have you expanded as much as you can within your own territory? Expanding always drives distraction from current markets and operations, so make sure you plan how to not damage your performance on this venture.
For instance, the first country in which my company had clinics was Spain. It wasn’t until we had a large market presence that we jumped into our second country, Portugal. Today, we are in eight countries.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to identifying the right market; geographic location, economic climate, government regulations and workforce restrictions are all decision criteria that must be considered. It’s important to approach a market that’s relatively easy to enter at first. For instance, this might mean the people speak the same language, have similar cultural norms and are geographically close. This is also why we expanded to Portugal from Spain first. Focus on one market at a time, and conquer that market before moving on to the next.
Adapt your products and marketing to appeal to the resident culture.
Acclimating to local ways of doing business and providing a product or service relevant to the new territory shows you are ready to become a part of the local industry, rather than taking over and shifting any norms. Do not make assumptions and progress without knowledge. Even if you have a similar practice elsewhere in the world, it’s important that the service you provide is customized to each market. Otherwise, you risk failing before you’ve even started.
Always listen to customers.
Online customer reviews and referrals are paramount to becoming an international success. Wherever you are based or expanding to, the key objective should always be to keep customers happy so that they would be willing to share their experiences with others. Customer reviews in trusted sources work well, whatever the market. Make sure you monitor them continuously starting from the first day, especially when you decide to scale in the market.
Have the right talent on your team.
It’s often individuals who will lead the way to success rather than faceless companies. Who is the face of your brand? Are they a strong leader? Embed global thinking into your company culture by infusing international expertise. We hired a manager for each country, and their job was to represent the expansion in their country.
Hiring top talent and nurturing them is important to achieve this. They will need to have accountability and ownership. Regardless of the size of your business, you should get into the mindset of a startup. This way, your employees can get involved in areas that aren’t strictly their discipline, which allows them to learn from others, gain expertise in different areas and thus make them more likely to succeed. This will only benefit your business when it comes to expanding internationally.
Get your finances in order.
As with any growth plan, expanding internationally requires the finances to back it. Do you have sufficient funding? Do you understand the import/export regulations for your chosen country? Are your loans compliant with international expansion? If not, do you need to seek funding from the country you are expanding into? These are all questions you must ask yourself. You must be financially secure before even considering taking your business to new, international markets.
As the world turns digital, expanding overseas is a great opportunity, but only if you are ready to do it. Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back. Conquer your domestic markets, do your research and recognize that it will take time. Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll be ready for international success in no time.