Tips for small businesses thinking about expanding business abroad

Paid partnership with PagoFX

By Rocio Almoguera.

Almost a year into the pandemic, many have taken the extra time found through lockdowns and stay at home orders to reassess their personal and professional lives and work out where they want to go next.

For over five million UK self-employed people and sole traders, moving into new territories is a natural next step once the groundwork is in place at home as they look to grow and expand their offering. However, it can be hard to know where to start. Whether you own a construction business and are looking to build an on-the-ground team in Spain or Germany, or you’re an online seller and are looking to expand your customer base in the United States, the below tips could help you get started.

Network, network, network!

Ensure you’ve got a good list of local connections, from suppliers to workers and experts on the ground before you launch in a new market. Having trusted help on hand with local knowledge of the landscape will be invaluable when you’re first starting out – especially if you don’t have boots on the ground yet yourself! You could also offer UK insights to your local contacts and suppliers to help them make headway in the UK in return.

Know your audience

Whether it’s cultural nuances, language barriers or spending habits, it’s important to understand the market you’re expanding into and ensure your offering aligns with consumer expectations and what they’re used to from similar services. It pays to do your research into how the local consumer engages with brands and make sure you reflect this in your strategy – your UK audience may be active on Twitter, but reaching your French demographic might be best on Facebook or LinkedIn!

Understand the competition

Take time to research peers and competitors in your respective space and get to know the landscape in the country you’re heading into. Take inspiration from those standing out in a positive way and note down how you can reflect these tactics in your own business, from specific launch activities, online and social presence or advertising.

Remember your “why”

It’s important to remember why you want to expand and why now is the right time to do so as you undertake your expansion and make sure this information is communicated to the full team. Expanding a business overseas can be a labour of love, especially for a sole trader, and requires a lot of patience and resolve. Having clear objectives and goals in place can help boost morale across the team and help keep things on track.

Streamline international payments

Having an easy way to pay local vendors and on-the-ground support is vital. An international money transfer app like PagoFX offers a safe and quick way for UK sole traders to make international payments with a lower-cost, easy-to-use service with live support and the backing of a major bank. PagoFX allows you to transfer money to more than 50 different countries across the world, regardless of the UK bank you use.

Ensure compliance and legality

There are possible legal issues to consider when expanding globally as a sole trader – from hiring employees, IP registration, data protection and tax implications. Take the time to ensure everything is above board. If necessary, hire local expertise to double check if you’re unsure about any aspect of establishing your overseas presence. Local government websites can also be a useful source of information for specific in-country regulations.

Flexibility is key

You can do all the planning in the world, but when you’re expanding into a new country, it’s likely there will be a few bumps in the road and times when you have to assess and pivot quickly. Whether it’s ongoing travel restrictions meaning you can’t make your planned trip to visit local vendors or certain phases of your plan taking longer than you planned for, it’s important to stay nimble and accept some element of flexibility.

Timing’s Everything

An obvious element but perhaps an easy one to forget – ensure you’re mindful of local time zones and local bank holidays. Real-time customer support at an appropriate time for your market is extremely important, especially when you’re making your first mark in the region, with first impressions counting for a lot. Wherever they are in the world, customers appreciate having available support as and when they need it, and prioritise brands that demonstrate this commitment and thinking. Making this a priority, and even recognising local holidays or celebrations on social media, can go a long way.

Stay realistic

Whilst total world domination might be the ultimate ambition, it’s important to stay realistic and prioritise the markets that make most sense for your business as a starting point, and also remember travel and social restrictions as a result of the pandemic may be in place for some time yet. Ensure your expansion approach aligns with existing business initiatives and objectives – you don’t want to stretch your organisation too thin and end up with your international expansion resources overshadowing domestic ones you worked so hard to build.

Enjoy it!

Expanding abroad is both exciting and nerve wracking, and it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of it all and forget to step back and take it all in. Take it slowly and remember to give yourself a pat on the back and some recognition of how far you’ve come.