13 Steps To Take Before Your Business Ventures Abroad

While exciting, expanding your company internationally comes with a host of risks and challenges. From factoring time zones into meeting calendars to navigating differences in culture, there’s a lot more than the upfront cost to think about when you’re expanding abroad.

See also: How Skimlinks Built A Company As Global As Its Product

To help you figure out a first-time expansion, 13 members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) offer their best advice on specific challenges you might face, and how to best deal with them head on.

Address Language Barriers

Ensure that your staff in remote offices can communicate well in several world languages. Don’t assume that all of your international clients can speak or write in English. Corresponding with potential clients in their native languages is not only professional, but also wise. As Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Luigi Wewege, Vivier Group

Get Good Local Advice

Before you dip your feet into the pond, you must make sure you have someone who is residing in or near the area you are considering. That way, he or she can give you simple and straightforward advice. Otherwise, you may have a lot of confusion, and do a lot of unnecessary work with negative return. Kevin Xu, Mebo International

Understand Local Customs

In the Philippines, one of the most overlooked pieces is the cultural norms—the importance of family, group pooling of revenue, residence situations, etc. In America we are very lucky in that we can commute places or even have cars. We have our own bank accounts and prize individuality. In other places, especially Southeast Asia, it is all about the family. Realize that the money each person makes is for the good of their family, so the number of payments and even the day of the month it’s paid out can make a huge difference for employee retention. Also small details such as how far your office is from the subway line can be a deal-breaker for people who live outside of the city (which can be most of the population, depending on where you are). Carter Thomas, Bluecloud Solutions

Make Local Connections

Your biggest challenge to starting the business overseas will be dealing with people. It will not be easy for you to understand the culture and business tactics in the overseas location. You should have someone local who you know and trust to start and manage the location and have that person deal with all local legality and process and report to you. If you don’t know someone, then find someone through referral. You can also contact your embassy in that country: The commercial officer in that country can also guide you and help you. Don’t overrely on your local connection. For the first few weeks or months, you’ll want to work with them at the international location to ensure that everything gets done. Once you’re there, start building lots of friends and connection who can support you in the case of an emergency. Piyush Jain, SIMpalm

Make Sure There Is Product-Market Fit

Make sure your product is a fit for the market you are trying to expand to. A lot of the horror stories from startups going international come from lack of product testing or product modification when arriving in a foreign market. Do your homework first, and revalidate your core assumptions regarding market need, functionality, problem-solving and revenue-generation capabilities with the market you are expanding to. Darwin Romero, Applaudo Studios

Have A Physical Office

I run an Africa-based online travel company called Wakanow with offices around the world. From experience, I’ve found that it is difficult if not impossible to enter new markets without also opening a physical office there. In fact, we’ve found it imperative to be able to serve local customers with local customer support systems and teams. For instance, early on we attempted to conduct business in the United States from Africa. That didn’t work effectively, so we opened a home office in Houston, Texas, and it’s made all the difference. Having the U.S. office allows us to serve customers based on their time zone and leverage natives that understand the nuances of U.S. travel. We’ve replicated the model dozens of times, and I’d encourage you to consider doing the same. Obinna Ekezie, Wakanow

Start Partnership Programs

Here in the states, you might be the expert on your product and your market. But the same is likely not true when you go to places like the Netherlands, South Africa, or New Zealand. At PandaDoc, I’ve built over 150 partners in over 20 countries. Great companies use affiliate and reseller programs to gain international expansion. It works because resellers in these other countries are on the same time zone, they have more credibility and expertise in local markets, and can either figuratively or literally speak the language. You can’t rely on your internal sales and marketing team. You need to invest heavily into partners internationally to spur international growth. It will be hard, but if you practice sales enablement with your partners, it’s the right path. Jared Fuller, PandaDoc

Account For Time Differences

As obvious as it sounds, make sure to factor in time-zone differences when scheduling meetings and tasks with your international counterparts. You will need to find a way to optimize the time you are all in the office at the same time. Also, take into account a calendar of international holidays so that you can project any time you may be out of communication. Andrew Kucheriavy, Intechnic

Start Marketing Early

One tip I recommend for anyone launching overseas is to start doing content marketing targeted toward the new market ahead of time. We expanded globally this year and it’s a lot less fun than it sounds. There are a ton of logistical and regulatory challenges that are hard to foresee—such as registering to employ people in another country or getting approval to employ Americans in another country. Content marketing paved the way for us for not just customers, but also recruiting. Shane Snow, Contently

Account For Travel Expenses

There are many considerations depending on the business you’re in and the area where you plan to do business. One of the considerations will be budgeting for more travel. The other is timing and its limitations. On an international level, production and delivery schedules will vary considerably compared to your domestic markets, where time zones and boundaries pose fewer restrictions. Mark Samuel, Fitmark

Learn The Hiring Process And Culture

The first business I ever started was overseas in China, and learning all of the labor laws was a competitive advantage given that some people didn’t know them, or thought they did and would cut corners to save money but ended up getting shut down by the local government. Know all of the rules as well as the culture in conducting an interview as the people that will interview will talk about you online and could make or break your recruiting reputation. Derek Capo, eFin

Understand International Tax Laws

We’ve just completed our first year of having an international office. While it comes with a lot of benefits, there are also a lot of hurdles. The number one thing I recommend is making sure the money flows from one location to another correctly (and legally) and that you are in compliance with all tax laws of both countries. Our decision to hire an international CPA to assist with this was money well spent. Nick Genty, Iconic Solutions

Ask For Help

When expanding your business internationally, you’ll find the need to localize your service and offering to each geographical location that you’re targeting. You’ll need to translate all your properties to the local language and consider the local legal and cultural components. Don’t be afraid to use the local community to help you adapt to your new habitat. When Facebook expanded internationally, it originally tried to use a translation company; however, the whole process was cumbersome and lengthy. The social network then decided to do things a bit differently and asked its own users to help it translate its site to various languages. The result was a crowd that loved Facebook and was able to accomplish this task quickly and efficiently! Make your community a part of your growth. Ayelet Noff, Blonde 2.0

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