Six tips for launching an SME overseas

Frances Dickens, CEO and co-founder of media barter agency Astus Group, which has offices in London, Australia and Singapore as well as a presence in Dublin gives us her six top tips for small companies looking to expand overseas:

Make the most of existing contacts and clients
Current contacts and clients are a lifeline for small companies moving into new territories. If you have multinational clients, ask them to introduce you to their local offices in your target market – if they are pleased with the work you do for them in one market, they may want to work with you in another.

Prospective clients will want to know about your relationships with other companies and if these include local divisions of multinational brands, this can act as a positive recommendation. In our sector – the media barter industry – we need to have brand advertisers (our clients) onside before approaching media owners; it demonstrates there is demand for what we offer.

Pick your launch country carefully
Countries with a culture and laws similar to that of the UK are a good bet for launching a new business. Australia is an easy country to work in from this perspective, and the fact that the economy shows consistent growth is a good precondition for launching a new business.

Similarly countries such as Singapore have created tax and legal systems that are conducive to setting up a new business. Corporate tax rates are about 8.5% up to profit of $300K, with a flat rate of 17% above so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the World Bank rates it first in the world for ease of doing business. Singapore is also politically stable and offers a good quality of life.

Work with locals and be prepared to adapt your business model
Navigating Singapore and other Asia Pacific markets may seem daunting because of the language barrier and cultural differences but hiring local experts will help, as will modifying your business approach. When launching in Singapore, we adapted our model to make it more appealing to Singaporeans by blending current and traditional Asian business practices. Our continued growth in Asia is in no small part down to being agile enough to adapt our business using on-the-ground experience and local expertise whilst staying true to a model we know works.

It’s also important to be aware that markets such as Ireland can operate quite differently from those of the UK and require a tailored approach. Culturally, Dublin sees itself as part of the Eurozone which means it is not acceptable simply to replicate a deal or approach that worked for the UK in Ireland. In order to access Dublin’s tight-knit business community, we hired a consultant with 12 years’ experience of the Irish market, and who knows all the Irish media owners and agency staff personally.

Sometimes being second helps
Sometimes it’s easier to penetrate a new market by arriving there second rather than first. We followed our main competitor into one of the Asia Pacific territories which meant that advertisers there were already familiar with media barter and so open to a fresh approach. By contrast, being the first mover in a new market means having to explain your proposition from scratch, without any points of reference as well having to contend with cultural, language, legal and tax differences.

Start small
Although going for a ‘land grab’ in a new market may seem like a good way to block competitors and roll out your offer, I would recommend proceeding with caution. It’s more sensible to hold back on investing heavily in expensive offices/IT/hiring lots of staff until you are 100 per cent sure the market likes your approach and offers growth potential over the long term.

Hire the best people you can afford
Hiring the best talent is crucial for a successful overseas launch. You will need people who have an in-depth understanding of the business, are excellent brand ambassadors and who also have in-market expertise. Trust and good communication are paramount because you won’t be on the ground permanently – thank goodness for email and Skype!

Image: Passports by Shutterstock