In the last year, I have expanded my company into three separate international markets: Singapore, the USA and the UK. While we have only officially launched in Singapore, I have spent enough time in each region to become aware of the massive diversity in culture, social protocols and ways of doing business that is unique even in seemingly similar cultures.
It is indeed no small feat, but expanding in three directions at once is possible if you have the dedication, passion – and the right people. Over the last couple of years, my staff and I have learnt something new about expanding our video business, Shootsta, every day.
As the co-founder and CEO, I have taken a massive leap of faith both professionally and personally overseeing such as colossal feat. Stationed from Singapore (our first operational office outside Australia) I continue to lead three full offices (Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore) while also planning how I will manage our foray into the US and UK.
While we still have a lot to do and will no doubt make many mistakes along the way, I believe there are a few critical steps that every founder/owner needs to know about before – and during–their expansion efforts.
- Once you decide to expand, make sure to get the right advice.
Receiving the right advice before you expand is essential, as it will help you understand the region you are moving into, as well as lend you some useful contacts. Experienced lawyers and accountants with a strong understanding of the market are vital and can put you in touch with potential employees, partners or other advisors. This does not necessarily mean engaging with the biggest fish in the sea: we were very happy with Pitcher Partners and their Baker Tilly network, and found that most mid-tier firms have the required networks to help lay the foundations for expansion.
- Make sure you have the funds to expand.
Expanding overseas is not cheap. Whatever you think it is going to cost, triple it, and that will get you closer to the real cost. Financial security is vital to cover the costs of setting up offices, hiring staff and acquiring assets, but it also increases your appeal to potential partners.
- Leave the country to go and just do it.
I have heard so many stories of people who have failed in their expansions. Many blame this failure on the market not being right, or the product is the wrong fit. However, as we chat, I find these people all have one thing in common: none of them has actually lived in the country of expansion for more than a few months at a time – if at all.
If you think you can get a business off the ground without actually being present, you are profoundly mistaken. Assuming that some random person you hired after a few interviews will lead your company with the fervour and passion you would is presumptuous at best.
I understand that in some cases, it may be impossible to leave your country due to health or family reasons, and that is fine. In this case, it is usually a matter of growing people in your Australian business and making sure they are aligned with your goals and culture before placing them overseas. Even then, however, the owner should still be willing to put in their own time and get over there to see the business taking shape first hand because taking an active interest in the process will always yield the best results.
- Talk to your family to see where they stand.
It also helps to have a great wife or husband. Expanding even into one international market takes a lot of hard work; expanding into three, while an exhilarating experience, can be a nightmare. This makes it vital to lean on the established support networks in your life, namely your family. I am lucky enough to have a family who supports my ambitions and wants to experience them with me, but these conversations need to be done early in the expansion process. Trials of ex-partners accompany so many stories of super successful entrepreneurs who’ve spent half their lives flying around the globe, setting up lucrative businesses. You cannot spread a company on your own, and family is possibly the most vital network available.
- Don’t assume expanding once means you know it all.
Each market is different, and each has its intricacies which have to be understood, preferably from the ground up. Singapore’s business environment is very friendly to foreign companies who want to expand, and their Economic Development Board plays a key role in fostering growth and resourcing businesses.
In contrast, America is a taxation mind field with minimal infrastructure in place to support expanding businesses. Doing business in the US is like doing business on another planet! In contrast, our UK experience has been exceptional – the government contacted us directly to offer their support (they have an entire department dedicated to this) and has made the process of setting up a new business as smooth as possible.
Moreover, while we are taking a bit of a risk with our UK strategy by putting someone new in place, the plan is for me to head over there after Singapore is more settled to ensure we are on the right track when doing business over there.
This just shows that no expansion experience is the same, so a solid grasp of the country and its processes is incredibly essential.
Expanding is never easy, but it can be made smoother by making sure the right processes and people are involved. It will always be hard, but being on the ground in person can help minimise any unforeseen issues that might crop up. Ultimately, expanding a business into any market can be done, it just takes the right amount of commitment.
About the author
Mike Pritchett is the co-founder and CEO of video production startup Shootsta, which is headquartered in Sydney.