The things I didn't account for often became the biggest hurdles that I had to overcome. You soon realize when you expand internationally how little you really know about a place and the inherent differences that at times can make or break you.
When Marketing Eye expanded, we were bullish. I spent a lot of time developing a business plan and marketing strategy, and implementing them. But it was the little things that became the biggest issue that often created road blocks.
After reading in Entrepreneur Magazine, 5 Common International Expansion Mistakes and How To Avoid Them by Adi Vaxman of Tripada, I noticed that a few resonated with me while others I have clearly avoided by being prepared.
When I landed in Atlanta, I had no idea. I found US-English foreign and was constantly asking people to repeat themselves because I didn't understand what they were saying. Strange really, given we all speak English so imagine how hard it would have been to set up shop in a non-English speaking country!
10 Mistakes Companies Make When Expanding Internationally
1. Become accustomed to the language and country culture - fast: Whether you are expanding from Australia to the US or to Japan, learn their culture and the way they do business, and adapt fast.
2. Account for accommodation and flight costs that are variable: When you are doing your budgets on the cost of traveling internationally, remember that quite often something will come up and you will need to fly at the last minute. For instance, to fly Qantas Business Class a week beforehand, it costs approximately $11,000 to $13,000 which is a huge leap from $8,000 that you may pay if booked months in advance.
3. Employ talent based on capabilities and loyalty: Some people are loyal and some are not. I was fortunate to employ people from the get-go that had good values and were loyal employees. They may not have been the right people for the next stage of the business, but they were amazing at getting the business off the ground.
4. Pick your expansion city carefully: I picked Atlanta due to my large business network and the low cost of entry into that market. It also had the highest density of small to medium sized businesses in the most economical location. This gave us an opportunity to work from a low cost base and grow organically in a sustainable way.
5. Watch exchange rates: At one stage when we were starting in Atlanta, the Australia dollar was $1.08 to the US dollar. I felt rich - I kid you not! But now, only a year or so later, it's a different story with the Australia dollar as low as 82 cents to the US dollar. For us, we were lucky because it allowed for the cost to set up to be lower than it would be today. It also meant that we were able to hire people when normally we may have had to wait for sales to come in the door.
6. Super sales people lose their enthusiasm when someone is not there to praise them all the time: Be aware, if you are lucky enough to hire a super sales person, as I did, you had better be giving them lots of attention. From the other side of the world - it is hard to do and by nature these people lose interest and all of a sudden you find yourself criticizing them for lack of performance.
7. Have a point of difference: When Marketing Eye entered the US market, there was no business quite like ours. Our holistic approach to marketing, technology, media and education was and is different to any other company in the US. This made our 'story telling' easy to do as we were not saying the same things as our competitors. That point of difference is what makes us successful.
8. Be aware of big business decisions: This is where I failed as I was all ready to set up a back-end for the Australian operations in the US due to low salaries, but with the change in fortunes for the US dollar, I am glad that I held off as right now I would be putting people off. This situation was a big eye opener for me and could have broken the bank in one fatal swoop.
9. Expanding when you could create more value staying at home: One of my mentors Jack Cowin who is one of the world's greatest entrepreneurs said to me before I expanded that I should invest the same money and energy on the local market as I would be using the same resources and could benefit from the synergies in the backend, rather than spend the money, effort and time in international expansion. In the end, I foolishly put his advice to the side and went ahead anyway. But he was right. I would have made more money, and improved my overall business from an operational perspective if I had stayed in Australia. The reason I expanded was for all the normal reasons; seeking an exciting business adventure, it made financial sense and an opportunity came my way.
10. Expansion to a country that is 15 hours away on a plane takes its toll: Travelling as frequently as I have over the past couple of years has had a toll on my health and wellbeing. It is exhausting and I look 10 years older! I have lost contact with friends because I am always flying somewhere and never have the time to catch up when I am home as I am always catching up on something; work, sleep, family. No-one realizes how much of a toll that travel takes on your body and mind until something gives you a reality check.
For now, we forge ahead, waving the Marketing Eye flag in cities all over America. We are all learning from the experience and being challenged in ways we never imagined possible. Our next year we will expand in a different way, licensing our brand and methodology to some of the best marketers in the US. Our first port of call is Texas and we have signed a licensee who has a phenomenal background and fits our company culture. This way, we hire the best and we all benefit from broader geographic reach. Watch this space.
Mellissah Smith is a marketing expert with more than 20 years experience. Having founded and built two successful marketing companies internationally, she is well recognized as a industry thought leader and innovator. Mellissah started her career working with technology and professional services firms, primarily in marketing, public relations and investor relations, positioning a number of successful companies to list on the various Stock Exchanges around the world. She is a writer, technology developer and entrepreneur who shares her thoughts and experiences through blogs and written articles published in various media outlets. Brag sheet: #2 marketer to follow on Twitter (2003), Top 150 Marketers to Follow (2015), Top 10 innovative marketers (2014), 60K+ followers on Twitter with 97% authentic.
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