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To successfully take your business overseas, you need to build your credibility quickly. Thankfully, there are some strategies you can use to do exactly that.

Striking out overseas can be both lucrative and exciting. The addressable markets are larger, the costs of doing business are lower, and success across multiple geographies will make your business more resilient (and hopefully more profitable).

But it’s easier said than done. True, you have a successful business in Australia. But overseas nobody knows you – you have no partners or suppliers, and none of the track record that customers like to see.

Before you go

Before taking the plunge you must have a relatively stable and mature business at home. Cheaper air travel and new IT and communications technologies are making the process easier, but one person still cannot run a multinational corporation. To succeed, you’re going to need to be able to step away from your Australian operations without placing them in peril.

You’ll also need a business that’s transferrable – that is, one that doesn’t depend on anything that’s uniquely Australian to work. So ask yourself whether your business will be able to operate in a similar fashion in the overseas market you’re considering. Will you be able to service and distribute your product? What tools will and won’t be available, and is your business model likely to stack up?

Finally, you’ll need to be determined and prepared to commit. Building credibility overseas can be a challenge. At the same time, you’ll also be navigating foreign investment requirements, foreign business regimes and foreign taxation frameworks. But on the plus side, you’ve credibly built this business once before, so you’re not starting from scratch.

Have the personality

To be successful in an overseas market, you will have to like to travel and adapt well to different cultures. And in new markets, the perception of your business will be mostly based on you.

Therefore you need to be up for the challenge. Politeness, openness and charisma will go a long way. There’ll be setbacks, but if at any point you find that you’re not enjoying the overall experience, it’s unlikely you’ll succeed.

Do your groundwork

To be a credible presence, you need to understand the country you’re targeting: not only its people, customs and history, but its economy as well.

When you first arrive, spend at least a week not doing business there. Instead, work to familiarise yourself with how things work. Meet people and get a handle on cultural practices and nuances. Knowing how the place ticks will help you to decide whether you’re venturing into the right market.

Network

From the moment you land, make as many contacts in the Australian expat community as you can. Austrade or Government mixers are be a good place to start.

Expat communities are a little different because they practically expect you to network and use opportunities. The fact that the networks are smaller and that everyone is in a similar boat means that exploiting contacts is not taboo, so embrace the esprit de corps by sharing people, opportunities and resources, and don’t be backward about putting yourself forward.

Expat communities are also the perfect source of information about what works and what doesn’t, what’s good and what isn’t, who’s reliable and who is best avoided. They can introduce you to the local contacts you’ll need, and vouch for your Australian credentials – something of real value when it comes to creating credibility.

Additionally, if your Australian clients or suppliers have contacts in your new market, consider introducing yourself as a way to import some of the credibility you’ve earned at home. Australian industry groups and associations may also have links with similar organisations overseas, so it can pay to make enquiries.

Exploit your Australian identity

Australians generally have an excellent business reputation, especially in Asia and in sectors where we’re considered experts. Use your Australian identity as a strength. It’s a generalisation, but in places like China and the Middle East there’s a certain craving for ‘developed-nation intelligence’, with many businesses keen to work beside and learn more about Western capitalism.

At one time, Dubai, for example, was taking as much Australian help as it could get.

Be careful, however, not to be arrogant or superior. There’s a lot that overseas businesses feel they do better (and some of that they probably do). But in the right areas – such as mining, technology, media and telecommunications – your Australian passport will be a real asset, so wear your identity on your sleeve. There’ll be no hiding your accent anyway.

Tell a compelling story

We know that customers like to deal with successful businesses that have a proven track record and an existing client base. While you will have these in Australia, they are of less value to someone overseas.

However, if you can clearly explain who you are and why you’re in their country, local customers will be more inclined to deal with you. To make your case, look for things that you bring to the table in your new country that competitors don’t.

In other words, use your new-found global reach as a selling point by turning your outsider status into a positive. Focus on what your unique point of view can deliver for your customers. If you can deliver something that’s missing in the local market, it’s this depth of knowledge and experience that will make you a credible proposition from the moment you land.

Follow local norms

While you should play on your foreign experience as a strength, it also pays to work within local customs and business practices wherever you can. Indeed, unless you happen to be setting up in a another Western country, simply continuing to follow Western business practices won’t work, and may even be abrasive. It’s a case of be global but act local.

One common mistake is having your Australian website simply translated into the local language. This rarely works because every country has different expectations when it comes to the web. (Consider how credible a site translated directly from Mandarin to English would appear, for example). A better idea is to pay a local developer to build your business a web presence of the kind that locals will expect.

The same goes for most marketing, advertising and PR activities – all of which will be much more effective and credible with input from good local minds.

To successfully take your business overseas, you need to build your credibility quickly. Thankfully, there are some strategies you can use to do exactly that.

Get a good address

As it does in Australia, a good address will add to your credibility. If you’re telling them that you’re a successful Australian business, then the locals will indeed expect you to have one.

Both serviced and virtual offices will help in this regard: allowing you to quickly move in to a business-ready address with meeting room facilities and local phone numbers without having to enter into a lease.

A well-equipped home base will also save you from the chaos of having to work out of a suitcase – something that’s twice as hard to do overseas. Many find that serviced offices also provide good networking opportunities.

Find good help

As much as you might like to, you cannot run a multinational business alone, and your credibility is going to depend on your business being able to function whether you’re in the country or out.

To achieve this, you’ll need to employ a local who can represent your business. But with the right person, you’ll also secure an immediate and invaluable source of local insight.

Have a good product

It sounds obvious, but nothing builds credibility like word-of-mouth. Make sure that you exceed the expectations of your new customers and gather their testimonials. Don’t cut corners. Your products and services should represent the same quality as they do in Australia.

In this regard, however, you should take encouragement from the fact that if your business works in Australia – where regulations and costs are high – it may well work even better overseas.

Keep your costs low

Success overseas will depend on local knowledge, market understanding and trusted relationships: all of which takes time. Nothing will ruin your credibility like failure. It’s therefore vital that your overseas strategy is to keep your costs low while you pursue profitability.

Make sure your business builds credibility through success by:

  • Adhering to a low-cost ‘cookie cutter’ model where your operations are similar across different markets. In addition to making further expansion easier, this will allow your business to remain agile, keeping the quality of your delivery high.
  • Exploiting tools like cloud computing to minimise your set-up and operating costs by sharing business software and resources between sites. The good news here is that, with recent advancements in cloud and communications technologies ‘going global’ has never been easier.
  • Maintaining a light footprint by minimising your investment. This is especially important in China, where you must pay back your total investment before you can begin to take profits out of the country.
  • Sharing space and resources with other businesses – especially with those run by other expats who are in the same ‘cost management’ boat.

Choosing your market

Making the right decision about which market to attack will also affect how quickly you can build a credible business overseas. Questions to ask include:

  • What size is the addressable market? Research how big the potential markets are in the countries you’re considering. The numbers can be astounding. China’s population is currently 1.35 billion, for example, and its middle class is rapidly expanding. Ask who your market is and what penetration you are likely to get.
  • How will my business fit? As discussed, it’s important to understand how an Australian business in your sector will be perceived. What local or international competitors will you have, and will you be able to operate in the same way you do in Australia?

  • Do I speak the language? It’s not compulsory, but speaking the local language will be an advantage for your credibility. If you don’t, you will be more reliant on local staff, depending on how commonly English is spoken in your target market.
  • How difficult is foreign investment? With its Westminster-style system and comparable commercial and contract laws, Singapore is a good choice for first-time ventures overseas. Other Asian markets can be more challenging, while many Middle Eastern nations are trying to make foreign investment more appealing. Examine what restrictions apply. Are foreigners allowed to own businesses, for example, or do you have to give a local partner a majority share? What other governmental and bureaucratic restrictions exist? How much will you be taxed?

10 tips to build credibility overseas

1. Like travel

2. Do your ground work

3. Network

4. Exploit your Australian identity

5. Tell a compelling story

6. Act like a local

7. Get a good address

8. Find good help

9. Have a good product

10. Choose the right market

Summing up

Building credibility overseas can be a surprising task. You’re not exactly starting with a blank slate, but the credibility you’ve built in Australia isn’t an automatic import. You’ll need to work hard as an ‘outsider’, but you will have the advantage of having done it all before. The key is deciding what it is that you bring to table in your new market: the credible experience, know-how or quality that sets you apart.

–Marcus Moufarrige is chief information officer and sales director at Servcorp, a leading global provider of serviced office and virtual office solutions.