The prospect of dealing with language and cultural barriers as well as the logistics of simply doing business in another country might be enough to hold you back from taking the plunge and expanding overseas.
But what if you had a network of international connections to help make that plunge a swan dive, rather than a belly flop?
Having someone on the ground in your target countries can help you navigate the minefield of problems and issues that can arise.
It certainly made business expansion easier for Dr Steven Fang, Executive Director of Singapore-based healthcare bio-analytic solutions provider Invitrocue, who has two decades of experience in building global biotechnology and life sciences companies.
“International contacts are both important and valuable, even instrumental in launching or expanding into overseas markets,” Dr Fang says.
For Dr Fang, having a good contact list overseas he can draw on for strategy insight and investment has helped his business expand from Singapore to Adelaide and France.
“Sending a team from HQ can only help with the process, not determine its success. Good international contacts do more than answer questions; they offer their time and access to their contacts as well.”
Work those contacts
Having a good contact base to draw from is crucial, says Dr Fang, but businesses need to carefully select the ones they believe will bring benefits, such as potential investors.
“Having both a good contact list and having them as strategic partners or investors have been instrumental in growing successfully overseas,” he says.
“This way, their interest and that of the company is aligned. In most instances, only 5% are the real critical contacts that will yield results. Build a wide cast of contacts, but understand which ones are the really important ones.
“Being able to answer ‘what’s in it for them’ is also important as there are no free-lunches! Be realistic and fair when entering into such conversations. Many companies often put this off until it’s too late.”
Dr Fang says that businesses without existing contacts overseas can source them in various ways.
“International contacts can be built through non-profit government agencies from the home country, trade associations or through local personal contacts, especially with companies that have had such experiences,” he says. Incubators and coworking facilities can also help business owners grow their international connections.
“Once built, it is always good to maintain these international contacts over a period of time.”
Partnerships can benefit expansion
Angus McDonald, the founder of 2017 Smart50 winner Cover Genius – a global distributor of insurance products for online businesses and one of the fastest-growing startups to have emerged from Australia – says his company has already expanded into the UK, US, Canada and New Zealand, and plans to launch in South Africa, Japan and Brazil in the coming months.
“We have developed technology that supports insurance companies and global ecommerce companies to sell insurance to their global customer base,” he says.
“We’ve had to expand rapidly overseas and now our customer base is 80% international. Because we have partnered with global businesses, our customer base has been similar to their mix of customers which means our largest markets have been in Europe and North America.”
McDonald says having overseas investors and contacts has been invaluable to the company’s expansion strategy.
“Our seed investors are led by a former CEO of large insurance companies in London and his connections have supported our growth overseas,” he says.
“Other contacts who were helpful were personal contacts. We’ve also relied on mutual connections to get where we have.”
Introductions pave a pathway to success
Gabrielle Harris, the founder and managing director of health and safety leadership and change management consultancy The Interchange, has worked with more than 50 businesses across the Asia-Pacific region with their latest push into India.
“The Interchange has exported leadership training to Gujarat India in partnership with global multinational Bombardier Transport,” she says.
“We built the world’s first occupational safety themed Bollywood film! The film was the centrepiece of a training program that has touched 2000 people to date and will touch 3000 by the end of this calendar year.”
For this latest project, The Interchange, a 2017 Smart50 Top Exporter Award finalist, also relied on their international introductions.
“Our onshore multinational contacts facilitated our entry and what have become strong relationships in India, Singapore and Malaysia,” she says.
“The simplest things such as finding local partners to produce our content, access to the right people and understanding local business were the biggest challenges for us. Without our international introductions, we would have never been able to achieve what we have done.”
The University of Adelaide’s ThincLab is a global network of collaborative workspaces where entrepreneurs and growth businesses can connect with mentors and investors: Adelaide, France and Singapore.