The digital transformation makes it increasingly easy for businesses of all sizes to reach around the world. However, the technical ability to go global doesn't guarantee success. There are few secrets how companies go global successfully.
1. Be clear about your organization's purpose for going global.
The world isn't a mountain to climb simply because it's there. There are different ways a company can expand beyond their borders and the "why" impacts every decision – especially the "where" it makes sense to go.
For example, a company that's looking to sell its products or services abroad has considerably different research to do about a locale than a company with the goal of reducing costs by locating production facilities or hiring service workers abroad who work with offices or customers in the United States.
By putting the reason for expansion front and center, your company ensures the rest of its research, planning, and decision-making is done with that goal in mind.
2. Localize, don't just replicate.
A common error companies make abroad is trying to replicate what's working in the United States. Whether it's product packaging or internal workflows, expect to adapt them to local norms and needs. Localization doesn't mean rebuilding everything from scratch. It simply means not to make assumptions and learn what sorts of tweaks make effective policies implemented at U.S. sites effective elsewhere.
Let's say your company designs its workforce motivation around a robust framework of worker bonuses. The same principle may work in a new country, but what that worker community values as a bonus may be different.
The best way to ensure your company is preparing to localize rather than just replicate is to hire local country managers. A common mistake that often results in replication, is transplanting an entire management team from the United States into the new country. The more effective option is to build a mixed team of long-time managers who understand the company's culture, systems, and inner workings and local managers who understand the same about the local market.
You can start the process of recruiting local talent during your research phase of selecting which countries are suitable for global expansion. This doesn’t have to be a formal recruitment process. The employees you send on these trips can begin building local relationships while considering the country’s potential. In addition to being a helpful support network if your company does open a location there, the very process of building the relationship is one test indicating how your company might integrate into the local community.
3. Take back-office and operational infrastructure seriously.
Researching whether a country has enough market demand or workers skills that your company needs is the engaging part of figuring out where and how to expand globally. However, the companies that do so successfully spend as much time specifying what the back-office and operational infrastructure looks like as well.
Having the right infrastructure means that local teams can quickly meet readiness goals and move on to realizing the strategic goals for going abroad. Operational infrastructure includes the very boring, yet critical issues of setting up how data will get shared securely across locations to identifying what decisions get made locally or centrally to how will the organization meet local compliance requirements.
4. Realistically estimate the amount of research, money, and work it will take to set up for long term success.
Going global doesn't happen on the cheap. The companies that understand and embrace the challenge are far more likely to expand successfully than those who think they can wing it. Set a realistic exploration plan and budget so you can develop the information during the exploration phase you need to set up a realistic implementation plan and budget.
There are good reasons for companies to look to go global. Even small businesses can extend their reach into the wider world with today's technology. If the global expansion bug hits your company, take it seriously. At least, seriously enough to spend the time to get it right.