11 Things to Consider When Expanding Internationally

  • Written by Clare Dyckhoff
11 Things to Consider When Expanding Internationally

From marketing campaigns generating new leads to running an efficient warehouse, when you are an ecommerce business the opportunities for growth are endless.

But what about moving into new waters?

Looking at international markets brings heaps of opportunity as well as it does logistical planning and things to consider. Even though we are more connected than ever thanks to the digital age we live in, there are a number of considerations when it comes to expanding internationally. 

If your business in your existing market is going successfully, you might be thinking about international expansion. But with great opportunity comes great considerations. 

In this guide we will cover the 11 top things to consider when expanding internationally, delving deep and providing you with advice to help you succeed.

Table of Contents

  • Market research

  • Business structure

  • Time zones

  • Cultural understanding

  • Market customisation

  • Market entry strategy

  • Budgeting and financial planning

  • Legal and data compliance

  • International shipping

  • Risk strategy

  • Future-proofing 

1. Market research

To first assess international expansion opportunities, it’s time to research the landscape in prospective markets. Looking at the total addressable market (TAM) and serviceable addressable market (SAM) is crucial to diving into the total market demand for the product you are looking to sell. 

This is the time to research not only the addressable market and demand for your product but to also suss out your competition.

Knowing your competitors in a market your business is already established in is one thing, but looking at new markets is quite another.

Competitors can position themselves differently, offer different kinds of products tailored to the audience and customer behavior, and there might even be examples of companies that have failed in the space.

Researching and learning is essential to growth - so diving into this area before any steps are taken is key. Conducting a PESTLE (Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental) analysis can also help you determine crucial things from different viewpoints before launch.

Assessing who your competitors are, what their market share is, and what the market size and opportunity is in the first place can help give a clever picture into your potential new audiences and their purchasing habits. 

Sometimes it’s best to start out in similar markets to where your business is already established. For example, if you’re based in and selling in the U.S. looking at selling in Canada or another English-speaking country could be a good starting point. 

2. Business structure

When expanding internationally, you will also need your workforce to expand too, to keep up with increased demand and customer needs. 

Depending on what your business offers, you will likely be thinking about hiring directly and bringing on international teams to help service clients, send out products locally (if needed), and look into expanding talent and workforces to grow as your business does.

If you have got products to send, you might open warehouses and look at the pros and cons for renting vs buying one in the new area.

Logistically speaking, you will need to research and consider what work permits are required, and visa requirements, establishing and being clear on HR processes so that there are strong systems in place to attract and maintain top talent. 

And when expanding into new markets, it might sound obvious but factoring in and being aware of language barriers and being clear on any cultural differences is not a one-size-fits-all solution but nevertheless inevitable when it comes to building new workforces. 

3. Consider the time zones

Whether it is dealing with a new workforce or collaborating with partner companies, time zones can cause a few headaches when getting to grips with them. It is even reported that misunderstandings related to time zones can cost businesses up $2billion annually

Factor in the time zones when it comes to dealing with your workforce in different countries.

To make life easier for call scheduling, using time zone converters can help reduce missed calls and meetings with those on the ground.

Respecting the different time zones is a sure fire way to keep your international peers and team on side. Scheduling meetings and calls within hours that work for both might mean taking some late or early calls, but this is far better than proposing 3am calls on their side.

To ensure the customer remains supported and content with your service, setting up customer service teams in new time zones is a better way to avoid frustration than, say, a Japanese customer trying to contact customer service teams based solely in the U.S. 

4. Cultural understanding 

Just like getting to grips with markets where businesses are established in, it takes time to fully understand new markets and cultures when growing internationally. 

From changing audience preferences, product requirements, different marketing tactics (which we will cover in the next point) to workforce management, structure, and team styles, what works in the U.K. might not land as well in Australia - even if the language is the same. 

When it comes to negotiating and approaching business decisions, there might be points of disconnection when it comes to navigating two very different cultures.

Making new contacts and expanding your network is one way to get closer to the ground - to meet more people in the know, and learn from, as well as navigating new ways of working and operating. 

5. Market customisation 

When breaking into any market, testing what works and learning is at the heart of finding marketing that works for your desired customer.

Maybe you want to trademark your company name and product in new markets (patents, copyrights), and perhaps you are thinking about who you can lean on when it comes to marketing execution. 

Positioning your product in new markets will bring even more opportunities to grow and succeed - and getting there will require a few different strategies. 

Use native speakers for copy and branding

Working with a local partner to help position your product in the most seamless, native way is a one strategy to help guide you breaking into new markets. For example, native speakers can help write copy that lands better with prospective customers - instead of relying on translating tools that might miss the mark.

Even if your established and new market are both English speaking, people who know that market best can help things prevent copy getting lost in translation - such as humor, wording, and vocabulary that don’t land in other countries.

Creating a localization strategy can cover everything from packaging, branding, which marketing resonates best, and how to structure your website for different markets.

Localize your marketing efforts 

Just like all marketing efforts might land differently throughout the contiguous U.S., marketing internationally brings a new challenge.

Influencer Marketing, for example, might be a huge source of leads for your business in the U.S., but in other markets you might find there is less trust - and more room for organic growth in search engines due to lesser competition.

Even how you set out your social accounts will be considered and factored in. 

Localisation can help test marketing that resonates best with the target audience and just as any good marketing principles follow - be sure to launch A/B testing, see what works and what does not so much, and keep learning from it. 

Further reading: How to increase Amazon Store Organic Traffic 

6. Market entry strategy 

From weighing up inventory control software solutions to prevent stock-outs, to licensing, having a clear market entry strategy and establishing smooth operational processes are essential to help the product align neatly with the new market. 

Being clued up on regulations and trade practices can help with added layers of complexity that come with exporting to new markets. 

Looking at the variety of franchising when expanding overseas (master franchises, direct franchising) to name a few can be a powerful tool for growing your business in new markets. With every option, there are pros and cons.

Now is the time to dive into what options are available and whether it is something your business definitely wants to avoid or address. 

Acquisitions also bring other options - where you can merge and integrate with established businesses with their sights on growing even more.

When looking to expand internationally, there are often two options: to establish a new business and start from the ground up overseas, or to acquire an established business - all with the view to expand growth potential. 

With every logistical option to weigh up, there are pros and cons to all and what suits one business might not suit another.

7. Budgeting and financial planning

To make money it costs money, so whilst looking at the potential revenue streams, profit gains and potential in new markets is often the most exciting and enticing part, weighing up the financial requirements and costs is an important first step. 

Considering the taxation of launching in new markets will bring up different results for different markets depending on where in the globe you are.

For example Europe and Asia Pacific will often list pricing with tax included, which might not be what you are currently used to or set up for. Currency and exchange rates might cause risks.

Making it easier for international customers to purchase products can provide a smooth experience for them (e.g. using tools to help with automatic price adjustments based on their location). 

Calculating the costs of launching in new markets vs the potential gains is a key formula a lot of CMOS and senior business development experts will look at.

There are costs involved for market research, logistics, legal fees, marketing, developing international teams, even to name a few.

Does the potential business growth and financial gains weigh out the operational and launch costs?

Whether it is building a house or a growing business - things often cost more than we think. Is the business in a strong position to expand in new markets or is more funding required? Can you use an analytics and forecasting tool to help give you data-driven insights?

8. Legal and Data compliance

Every market has their own laws and regulations and whilst it can feel a bit of a confusing space to dive into at first, it is an essential one to get to grips with. 

With customers involved there are also compliance requirements. Just like the GDPR roll out in Europe in 2016, Asia-Pacific regulations will also differ.

Aside from import/export practicalities and requirements, compliance rules include equal opportunity laws, tax compliance, minimum employee entitlements, and financial reporting requirements, and can cause great repercussions for businesses if they are not adhered to. 

9. Thinking about international shipping 

Thinking about your packaging sounds like an obvious step in the shipping journey, but when you are dealing with sending packages out vs launching a software product for example, packaging them for shipping is a crucial thing to consider to ensure your customers receive their products undamaged and secure. 

If you end up selling on Amazon, looking for ways to reduce seller costs can be a good way to address cost-saving techniques when starting out. 

Further reading: Inventory Management Software: How to Choose 

10. Adapting to new challenges - risk strategy

Securing happy customers, efficient and dedicated employees, and a positive step towards expansion - it is always heartening when things are going well in your business. But with so much out of our control, not having a plan for good days and bad is asking for trouble. 

As the world saw from the fallout of Covid-19, political instability, economic changes, and supply chain issues can cause issues for your customers all the way through to your profit margins.

Just as having business insurance can give you a layer of protection against certain challenges, having a risk strategy prepared and ready to go will help you in the unfortunate chance you may need it. 

11. Look to the future

Succeeding in business involves a number of variables and sometimes bigger things outside of our control can carry us on different and difficult paths. 

Aside from adapting to new challenges and being aware of potential risks, assessing new competitors in the space and keeping abreast of emerging brands, products and future trends can help keep your business at the forefront of momentum. 

Global expansion is an exciting and potentially lucrative business decision for many but it is not without its challenges. With so much to consider, dive into, and decide it can change rapidly and being flexible and ready to adapt will be key to its success. 

But regardless of the challenges and barriers that might crop up, there is a world of opportunity out there and waiting.

There are more prospective customers waiting for and in need of your product and offering - and that is worth considering when it comes to building a growing, useful and purposeful business.

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