When should you take your business global?

The World Stage | BCBusiness

When’s a good time to take the leap to the world stage? Here are seven tips to help you decide

by Petti FongAs a small- or medium-sized business owner, it’s easy to dream big about taking your enterprise global. Go big or go home isn’t actually the dilemma; it’s knowing exactly when to make the move of taking your product or concept to an international audience. Tech investor and co-founder of Abe Books Boris Wertz, Blo Blow Dry Bar Inc. co-founder Judy Brooks and Sarah Lubik, Beedie School of Business at SFU lecturer in innovation and entrepreneurship, offer insight on how to know when it’s go-global time.

Know your strengths

Do you have a team that could handle international expansion? “This could mean they would be willing to relocate if needed and are good at building relationships, sensitive to international differences and might mean they speak other languages,” says Lubik. And how well are you serving your domestic market? While strong market penetration at home doesn’t guarantee success abroad, “it does suggest you’re doing something right,” she says.

Be realistic about your weaknesses

Expanding from your local market-place can be an expensive venture. Always calculate paying more, taking more time and doing more paperwork when it comes to dealing with the regulations and licensing requirements in a new culture. “Some people have the kind of business that should never expand. We all think that’s the ultimate goal, but it depends on the size of your organization and your personal vision,” says Brooks. The first year she took Blo Blow Dry Bar international, she was on the road 50 per cent of the time.

Define your own idea of success

Do you really need to see your product on a grocery shelf in Taipei? If you’ve built up a business based on the cultural values that matter to you and the people who work for you, be prepared for that culture to change once you move. “How are you going to reproduce that culture over there? You don’t just reproduce that with a name,” says Brooks.

Learn from your competitors

Be aware that your competition is already thinking about international expansion. If you’re a tech company, know the reach of your audience—those who already speak the language on your site. “Because we only invest in Internet or tech companies, our companies can usually reach 400 million consumers in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. who speak the same language,” says Wertz. If your competition has gone global and is already successful, says Lubik, “that is probably an indication of international need that you might be able to meet.”

Understand your supply chain

If your local supply chain is expensive or lacks expertise, it might be a sign that it’s time to consider a global supply chain where your business can find cheaper products, manufacturing processes or delivery. But it’s also important to take into account your proximity to suppliers. The more technical your product, the better it is for you to be closer to the production, says Lubik.

Listen to your customers

Are you hearing people say they wished there was a similar product or service where they’re from? “People tell you all the time, ‘Oh, I wish this was available where I live,’” says Brooks. But proceed with caution. Do they want to franchise your business? Or are they bringing you a built-in client base already? Franchising your business involves a lot of hand-holding in the beginning.

Plan right from the start

If your business is a website or has an e-commerce component, build your site as if you are going to expand down the road, advises Wertz. “Think about it early. But do it late.”