Jorge Lana, co-founder of Modulor Ventures
Main Challenges Expanding Your Business Internationally 🌎
One of the biggest challenges for many SMB companies is to expand and open new markets to keep growing their businesses. In order to do it right you need to have a previous success in your own country and build the right expansion strategy.
Why companies go international?
Typically companies are trying to open international markets to sell more of their existing services or products to increase their market size or fees.
In the case of our services companies - mendesaltaren (product design studio) and minimum.run (nocode and low-code development agency) - we want to sell more internationally because the international clients in countries such as USA, UK or Switzerland pay higher fees than in Spain where most of our team is currently based.
In the case of our new SaaS product Polyflow.co (a new Weblow multilingual platform to help Webflow sites scale in different languages with geo-targeting capabilities), here we are targeting international companies from day 1.
If you are a SaaS business or a digital product you might have the advantage that you can offer your services and products remote without having a physical presence with international countries. However, you will need to adapt your product and marketing strategy to local markets in order to be able to get traction and if you want to grow at a larger scale, you will have to end up opening and office and hiring a local team.
Modes of entry to new markets 🌎
Depending on your business model, you can enter in new markets through different ways, here we listed the main ones:
- Strategic Alliances
- Selling Online
- Exporting goods
- New wholly owned subsidiary
In our case, since we have an early stage software company and 2 services companies we are mostly focused on searching strategic alliances and selling online directly. Most of our sales can be done online for our SaaS product, however, our services companies might require some trips. If international expansion works well we will probably decide to hire an international team and open a subsidiary in the new markets.
Main challenges to enter in new markets 🤺
There are many countries in the world where you could develop new businesses.
And of course you can´t open all of them at the same time. It is an important decision to decide when and where you should focus to enter into a new market.
Our first decision to take is to understand what are the markets where I have an opportunity, competitive advantage and it can be a profitable investment.
So before making any investments you will have to analyse and take into consideration several factors such as proximity, language, local regulations, local competitors, time zone, cultural differences among others.
Once you have identified your target markets, you will face different challenges. I put here some of them that I consider more relevant:
- Understanding local competition and your target persona
- Meeting local regulatory and compliance
- Understand how much you need to invest
- Local language and culture
- Creating an international marketing plan for your new markets
- Managing teams in different countries
The international expansion strategy will require part of your finance, management, operations, legal and marketing teams.
1) Understand your local competitors and your target persona 🤷🏻♂️
Before selling anything you need understand the market, your competitors and target persona. Understanding your competitors will help you understand your main differentiation and competitive advantages.
Create buyer personas for the individuals or businesses that your products and services would most appeal to, and explore how you plan to reach them. This will help you build your marketing, content and what are your main distribution channels.
2) Meeting local regulatory and compliance 𝍒
As companies go through the process of international expansion, growing and expanding into new regions, so too do their compliance responsibilities. Meeting local rules, tax obligations and regulations can certainly become complex as the company’s footprint and workforce expand.
Doing due diligence ahead of time is essential, but sometimes it’s a question of expertise and time. So sometimes this task can be outsourced to an expert and it might be easier for you.
3) Understand how much you need to invest 💲
It is important to understand all of the expenses that will accompany the market expansion. List all the elements you need to invest on to get operate and get new customers in international customers:
- Creating a new legal subsidiary
- Hiring new local team members to expand the business and provide customer support.
- Marketing strategy for the new markets
- Content translations to local languages
- Opening a new offices or facilities to operate your business (in case you don´t work remote)
- International trips
- Attending to events to meet the local clients
4) Adapt to local culture & language 🇺🇸
When engaging in international business, it’s important to consider the languages spoken in the countries to which you’re looking to expand.
Does your product messaging translate well into another language? Consider hiring an interpreter and consulting a native speaker and resident of each country.
It’s also critical to consider the languages spoken by your company’s team members based in international offices. Once again, investing in interpreters can help ensure your business continues to operate smoothly.
Depending on the region where you want to expand you might communicate on a different language. This means that sometimes you might need to adapt your marketing, sales and operations to the local language market. It depends on your target and buyer persona.
Understanding cultural difference, not only language is also important if you are selling B2B SaaS or if you are running B2C campaigns. Details are important, specially when you are competing with local competitors.
Some SaaS businesses only communicate in English because their consider their target personas speak and work in English in all the countries. However, if you want to have a lot traction in some new markets you will need to adapt the marketing and content to the local language.
5) Create an international marketing plan 📈
A global marketing strategy doesn't only cover selling products across borders. It includes layering the 4Ps of Marketing (Product, Pricing, Promotions, and Place) with other marketing processes such as analysis, planning, tracking results, and gathering social proof.
Study your marketing personas and communicate the value of your product in your marketing message. Consider your competitors’ positioning and outline a marketing plan that emphasises your strengths.
Your product's value proposition may change in different markets, so adapt accordingly. Uber, for example, promotes cash over cards in developing markets where cash payments are predominant.
By using a well-designed website with strong messaging that emphasizes the key benefits of your products, you can maximize on all online marketing channels. We recommend using an optimized website, localized content to personalize the services/products and prices, and localized ads to reach your international audience.
You will also need to use search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to improve your website's ranking in the international and local search engines.
Some companies don´t offer the same services in each country, so a common tactic is to target users by language and local IP to customise the messaging and services by country and not only by language.
(BTW this is what we are doing for our customers on Webflow at www.Polyflow.co)
When creating content for your site and distribution channels focus on connecting with your customers. Get familiar with their motivations and make your messaging clear and personalised so there's no confusion about what and who you are selling to. It's helpful to learn about popular cultural references, events, and holidays to create a truly global, local experience.
By creating a compelling communication and marketing message you should be able to attract new customers in the new markets.
Nor sure how to start to build your marketing plan? you can always get help from some templates
6) Managing and motivating international remote teams 👩🏽💻🧑🏻💻
Last but not least t is managing employees who live across the world. When trying to function as a team, it can be difficult to account for language barriers, cultural differences, time zones, and varying levels of technology access and reliance.
To build and maintain a strong working relationship with an international team, facilitate regular check-ins, preferably using a video conferencing platform so you can interact in real time.
Some of the tools we use to work with a remote team are:
- Slack to connect via chat and share daily stand-ups.
- Loom to provide asynchronous feedback.
- Notion or Google docs to document all the information.
- Hangout or Zoom for video conference calls.
- Salesforce / Hubspot / Pipedrive to gather and collect all the CRM data.
Last, 4 quick tips to engage and motivate your international remote teams:
1 - Frequent check-ins are vital to employee engagement. Without the face-to-face interactions that come with working in an office, the need for regular check-ins is even more important when managing remote international employees.
2 - Noticing and praising your team’s work.
3 - Building a strong culture with online activities, sharing knowledge and organising virtual gatherings
4 - Organising at least 1 or 2 meetings in person every year with the all the teams.
These 4 things will boosts employee engagement, but reaps several other benefits, including greater productivity, stronger company loyalty and higher retention rates.
To wrap up, going international is a big challenge, you will need to build international teams aligned with your culture, in different time zones and scale international operations with local regulations. It can be hard, but the reward it can be huge :-)
At Minimum.run and Polyflow.co we are helping our customers to improve their international SEO strategies using Webflow, allowing them to customise their content strategy and optimising their international content to keep growing and improving their main KPIs such as leads and sales generation.
I hope you enjoyed this post :-) More coming soon.