The other day I was pursuing the latest Great American Pastime—binge-viewing on Netflix—and discovered an interesting British reality series: The Great Escapers.
It follows three British couples who pick up stakes and head to the Continent for a change of lifestyle. However, there’s one catch: They have to figure out how to earn money. They all start their own businesses—two in France, one in Spain—and the series quickly morphs from simply pursuing an alternate lifestyle to coping with the challenges of starting a new business in a new country.
This is where the scenarios start to resonate with me. Expanding into new countries is a great way to grow, whether the growth you are seeking is measured by personal fulfillment or by net profits.
Going from high cost to low cost
I need to mention one more key element that played into these couples’ decision to abandon England: real Estate and other costs were much less expensive than in their homeland. This is a factor any business needs to consider when planning a move or expansion. I recently read an article about major corporations that are relocating from the San Francisco Bay Area to other states to lower their costs. More on costs in a bit.
Some of you may be considering a wholesale change of scenery like the three Great Escapers, but I think more of you look at operating overseas as a strategy to expand your company and grab some additional growth. There are some established ways to accomplish this, and fortunately you can “dial in” the level of commitment you want to invest in both time and money. Let’s look at a couple of paths you might choose.
One of the easiest ways to establish a presence overseas is to create a partnership with a company that already operates in the country where you want to expand to. They pick up your brand and ultimately are in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining the success of your venture.
This can be a great way to get started and it also works well with tangible products. For example, a furniture manufacturer in North Carolina might want to pursue a partnership with a chain of furniture stores overseas.
I alluded to one of the problems of handing off responsibility to an offshore partner. You lose some control of your brand and its ultimate ability to succeed.
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Can you franchise your business?
This brings me to another strategy that is perhaps slightly less well-known among smaller businesses, but in many ways solves this problem. It’s also suitable for both product-based and service-based companies: franchising. This approach is especially appealing if you’ve worked hard to document and systemize your business. (And if you haven’t, it’s a good place to start if you want to assure the future success of your business, whether or not you choose to expand overseas!)
The franchise model also works well for service industries, but be sure to take cultural and economic differences into consideration. For example, in the U.S., various cleaning services are proven franchise model winners, but in countries where wages are significantly lower, cleaning might not work. In less prosperous nations live-in household help is within the financial reach of many who would be your target clientele.
Consider the culture
And this brings us to the topic of cultural differences. Earlier I mentioned one of the reasons the three British couples left their homeland was because prices were lower overseas. However, they did encounter some social, commercial, or cultural differences that occasionally caused operational snags.
One of the couples started a tourism-based business that relied on their van for daily transportation. When the van needed what seemed to be a fairly routine repair, the garage took two weeks to turn it around. If you live in a country where you’re accustomed to dropping your car off in the morning and picking it up in the evening, this would be a shocker.
If you work with an overseas partner for expansion abroad, you’ll be able to sidestep many of these kinds of hassles. The same is somewhat true if you sell franchises, but you will have to maintain at least a small organization in the host country to sell and service your franchise operators.
Even if your overseas adventure isn’t chronicled for a streaming series, it can be great for your brand and your long-term profits. Make this year the year where you take the plunge.
RELATED: Go Global! 4 Secrets to Selling Internationally
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