Just because your business is a success in one place doesn't guarantee it will be successful in another country, where the laws, customs and culture can be quite different. So what does it take to make it abroad? CIO.com asked business owners and managers with experience opening or running an international office or Website for their best tips. Following are the seven top suggestions for increasing international success.
1. Partner with someone who knows the lay of the land. Hiring an agency or specialist who "can help you navigate local customs, provide translations, help you size the market and provide demographics and ascertain interest in your product" can make all the difference between success and failure, says Grace Krokidas, vice president, Global Marketing, Liquidware Labs, a provider of desktop virtualization solutions.
"You absolutely need to have this kind of on-the-ground, in-country expertise when going global," Krokidas says, as "the U.S. model does not translate to other countries, even if they are English speaking."
2. Make sure you're in compliance with local laws and regulations. It is essential to "understand the local labor laws (e.g., types of insurance required, mandatory benefits, laws governing work hours/periods, customs regarding salaries and bonuses, and so on) as they may be very different from the U.S," says Lisa F. Cookmeyer, CEO, Trigon Associates, which provides full-service engineering, consulting and management services to both public and private sector clients.
To help you navigate local rules and regulations, she advises finding an attorney or someone who specializes in helping foreign companies with local rules and regulations in that target market (as opposed to in the U.S.).
Similarly, if you are planning on establishing a Web presence and selling online in a foreign market, it's important to know the local Internet and privacy laws. "We needed to set up a Web server in the EU to comply with European data privacy laws," says Alex Raymond, founder of Kapta, an online performance dashboard tool for CEOs. "Luckily it was no big deal and our hosting provider was easy to work with, but this is something that can trip up a lot of smaller companies."
3. Carefully select who you send abroad. "We all think that 'tech speak' is universal, but that is not necessarily the case," says Suzanne Garber, chief networking officer for International SOS. "Ensure that the representative you send on behalf of your company to broker relationships [or manage your office] in other countries is appropriately trained in local customs so as not to offend locals and ruin deals."
In addition to relevant expertise, you also need to "determine if the employee [and his or her] family can adapt to the new culture, food, transportation, living conditions," says Viktor Reznicek, vice president of Relocation & Assignment Services at Xerox.
4. Consider contracting local people. "In many countries you can simply lease employees and not have all of the administrative headaches and tax presence," says Mike Morgan, president, Bomgar, which provides remote support solutions for computing systems and mobile devices.
"You might decide to pull up your stakes in six months," Morgan says. So by contracting with an employment agency in your target market, essentially outsourcing certain jobs, you have more flexibility and can reduce expenses.
5. Make sure you have the right general manager in place. "Before expanding into a new country, you have to have the right GM in place, who can lay out a roadmap and set expectations properly," argues Ash Ashutosh, CEO of Actifio, which provides copy data management. "Global GMs I hire are often former CEOs, with a broad understanding of what it means to run a business, and a region," he says. "They ensure that the new office does not become an outpost."
Even with a good GM in place, though, it's important to regularly communicate with and visit new locations. "When we open offices in new locations, I spend 4 to 5 weeks there to help get it up to speed and then visit the site every 4 to 6 months," he says.
6. Localize your Website--and marketing materials. "Businesses need to have a top quality Website localized in the most common languages for the markets they are targeting," says Liz Elting, the CEO of TransPerfect, a language services and technology company that works with businesses to localize for international audiences.
"This is best achieved by partnering with a language services provider (LSP) with both the human and technological knowledge to handle accurate, high-quality language translation," as well as create localized content and SEO, Elting says. Similarly, if you are planning on producing marketing materials for a specific market, do not rely on machine translation. Find someone local who understands marketing for your industry and speaks the local language as well as yours.
7. Work with an international shipper. If you are just interested in selling your products to an international audience, not opening an office in another country, consider working with an international shipper.
"Our shipper handles all the shipping, tracking and customer service for all international customers and does a great job," says Anita Mahaffey, the CEO of sleepwear company Cool-jams. (International online orders are directed to the shipping company's shopping cart.)
Not only is the shipper slightly less expensive than, say, UPS or FedEx, but having all international orders directed seamlessly to the shipper "has allowed us to expand rapidly overseas without the headaches normally involved," Mahaffey says.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.