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6 Tips to Help Your Startup Gain Global Recognition

8 min read

Growing from a local startup to an international enterprise is an exciting and strategic move for growth-minded founders. Global expansion can be both risky and rewarding, and the challenges are surmountable with planning and research.

Some of the world’s most famous brand names such as Apple, Etsy, HubSpot, and Groupon had humble beginnings.

Expanding internationally could be just the business strategy you need to take your startup to the next level. A global presence gives you access to a new customer base and fresh markets that aren’t saturated yet. Hence, you have a competitive edge over your rivals.

Among the first things to do to localize your startup is to get an 1800 number so that customers can contact you from anywhere. It improves the customer experience since it’s a free and reliable way to get in touch with your business.

A dedicated business number also makes you look more professional and lends credibility to your company.

What do startups stand to gain by taking on new geographical locations? Let’s take a look at the benefits.

Advantages of Expanding a Startup Globally

There are several benefits of international expansion:

  • Improved company reputation
  • Increased revenue potential
  • Broader customer base
  • Greater access to talent
  • Operational cost savings
  • Opportunity to diversify
  • Increased long-term success

However, you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses to find out if you’re ready.

Timing, cultural differences and language barriers, legal and compliance risks, logistics, and finance management — everything must be factored in.

How can you determine if you’re ready for the challenge? Ask yourself if your startup demonstrates the following signs of growth potential.

5 Signs Your Startup Has the Potential to Go Global

Consider these 5 signs to understand if you’re ready for new, international markets:

1. A Global Mindset

Does your startup have a global outlook from the outset?

Have you identified which countries are favorable for future growth?

If you’ve established your startup with a vision for future international growth, you should customize your initial strategies to enable you to scale up once you’re ready.

2. A Steady Revenue Flow

Even if you have a product that you’ve determined will perform well in your target international markets, it is best to wait until your startup is generating substantial revenue.

An analysis by Crane revealed the following statistics:

  • One in three companies had less than $10 million in revenues when they set up their first international office.
  • 19 companies surpassed a total international revenue of $50 million in less than 10 years.
  • International revenues constitute ≥10% of total revenue by the sixth year of operation, on average.

Thus, many successful startups chose to wait until they were ready before moving to international locations unless there were clear first-mover advantages.

3. Sound Logistical Planning

There are several logistical challenges in expanding abroad, such as navigating local rules and regulations, developing local sales and operations teams, handling HR challenges like hiring and paying, and optimizing products to suit new markets.

You should have a strategic plan and the tools and technology to tackle these challenges.

4. Financial Planning

Does your startup have the ability to create a reliable financial plan for international expansion?

A rule of thumb is to budget enough money and time for your international market to reach 10% of the scale of your domestic market and then double both figures.

5. Opportunity to Beat International Competitors

If you determine that you have significant first-mover advantages, you can seize the opportunity to launch in international markets early.

Thus, you can entrench yourself in your target market before your competitors can get there and crowd you out.

Harvard Business Review notes: “The nuances of your business and the industry you’re in, as well as your company’s strategic direction, will help to shape your expansion into new markets.”

Let’s take a look at some of the major steps you need to take while developing an expansion plan.

Tips to Go Global with Your Startup

Consider the following six tips when planning to expand your startup abroad:

1. Make Sure You Have a Market

The cornerstone of a successful startup is finding product-market fit. For your startup to scale in international markets, it should meet product requirements and market requirements.

No market need (35%) is among the top three reasons for startup failure.

For example, M-Pesa, a digital payments system, achieved great success when it was launched in Kenya in 2007 and became popular in other parts of East Africa. However, it did not work in South Africa due to a misunderstanding of the market needs and had to shut down in 2016.

It’s incorrect to assume that countries in the same geographical region are similar and products can be successfully transferred between them. They may have shared cultural norms and languages, but it is unwise to use such superficial similarities to determine product-market fit.

You should work with local country management teams to identify favorable markets and later establish R&D centers on the ground to determine similarities and differences between countries.

Products can be tweaked to reflect small consumer differences if there is a common need between two countries. If there’s no need, what works in one country may not work in another.

Thus, you should take the time to conduct market research and customer research and chalk out a carefully considered expansion plan before you proceed.

For an ecommerce business or a marketplace, you need to be sure about positive market economics and route to market.

2. Re-Examine Your Operating Model

Aim to build a scalable centralized or decentralized model from the start to avoid costly and time-consuming business restructuring later.

Let’s see what each business model entails:

Centralized model/ Hub-and-spoke model

  • Involves a domestic invoicing group that funds international cost centers
  • May also involve a shared service center at headquarters that coordinates functions like human resources, tax, accounting, legal, and customer service

Decentralized model

  • Involves separate profit and loss (PNL) center in each country
  • Requires cross-border controls and currency controls

Thus, your operating model should be based on the functions you plan to manage centrally and those you plan to manage locally. The amount of autonomy your local offices will enjoy will depend on your startup’s business and revenue model, size, products, and marketing strategies.

Ensure that you secure a local domain name and a toll-free phone number to legitimize your business and ensure that you can do business properly. Your startup should also be able to accept local currency.

Many search engines give priority to high-level in-country domain names like www.growthstartup.fr or www.growthstartup.de. Instead of using subdomains or subfolders of your main startup website, it is best to use in-country domain names for each target market.

Once these tasks are over, you can localize smaller aspects of your business such as testimonials for local marketing copy and sample clients.

3. Start Small

Don’t make the mistake of making grand, ambitious growth plans when you first start expanding your startup internationally. Expansion involves many challenges, such as figuring out business structure, employment laws, sales contract laws, taxation, data protection laws, and product liability.

It is prudent to take measured steps and experiment with a few business strategies before setting up a permanent office.

For instance, you could start with a small number of independent contractors or handle a small volume of sales to test the waters before diving in.

It allows you to determine what gaps need to be filled and which full-time roles will be needed. It also helps you learn how to work across different time zones and manage remote teams.

4. Think About the Logistics

Global logistics includes the transportation, storage, packaging, and labeling of goods through international routes. Initially, you could use a self-storage facility to keep the process manageable and costs low.

There are some other important considerations from a logistical point of view:

  • Regulatory approvals – You have to comply with international laws governing the export and import of goods. So before you start shipping products overseas, you need to conduct research.
  • Need for sales, operations, and service teams on the ground
  • Need for product localization – This means different packaging, foreign language instructions, and so on. Packaging standards vary from country to country. Depending on the regulations of the country, there could be an increase in the packaging costs if labels contain instructions in multiple languages.
  • An understanding of the local competition and their competitive advantage over your product
  • Need for a customs brokerage and freight forwarding services

Hence, you have to pay special attention to what your logistics will look like.

5. Leverage Local Experts

You don’t have to start from scratch to set up your business at a new location. Instead, you can take the help of local expertise by outsourcing some of your initial operations.

The rise of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way companies are establishing offices. Instead of setting up offices in target cities, companies are trying to set up remote teams in the same time zones as their customers.

You should consider leveraging local help in the following areas:

Recruitment

Instead of setting up a full-fledged human resources operation, you can consider hiring a team through an employer of record.

An employer of record is a third-party organization that offers services like payroll, taxation, employee visa, insurance, and employee benefits. Thus, it eliminates the risk of violating local employment laws and saves money.

Professional services

You can hire a local accountant and/or lawyer to help with local regulations and laws, such as tax, compliance, and regulatory reporting.

Payroll

You can choose to implement a global payroll solution to streamline payroll processing across time zones, currencies, and customs. Such a system will also give you insights and data for forecasting and strategy formulation.

6. Build International Marketing Strategies

During market research, you will have collected data on which marketing platforms and mechanisms are most widely used in your target country, such as social media, online advertising, email marketing, and search marketing.

Use this information to devise a marketing strategy and determine the most effective marketing channels.

You’ll need to answer questions like:

  • Does the target audience use email frequently?
  • Should I use coupons or buy-one-get-one-free offers to attract more customers?
  • Should I advertise on TV or will YouTube be more effective?
  • Is Facebook or a regional social media platform more prevalent?
  • Do I want a different marketing message for each geography or do I want a consistent global brand that is slightly tailored for each marketplace?

A few fundamentals of international marketing are:

1. Understanding the language and culture

A thorough understanding of the nuances of your target market’s culture and language is essential.

Have a local partner to give you insights into what works in the market and how your product fits in with the traditions and customs of the place. You could hurt cultural sensibilities if you don’t do your market research well.

2. Build up global SEO

Did you know that more than half of Google searches are in languages other than English? Have multiple language versions of your website and optimize your website for each target country.

Also, use canonical links to let Google know that the different language versions are not duplicate content, and use hreflang tags in your code to provide a smooth user experience.

3. Create location-specific social accounts

Just like multiple-language websites, you can set up social accounts in the language of the target market. Depending on the volume of business requests you receive in a foreign language, you can customize your marketing messages.

Wrapping Up

Startups are well-placed to grow with a global mindset due to their agility and low overhead costs. Also, there are several benefits of startups expanding globally–especially for startups launching from smaller countries–since they’re more likely to witness significant growth.

Growing your startup with a multi-market strategy helps you in two ways: it opens you up for diversification, competition, and greater opportunities, and it helps you understand and assimilate diversity in your business.

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