International Expansion Starts With The Right Mindset

The prospect of taking your company into new international markets is exciting, and there are many clear benefits as to why you should consider expanding now more than ever before, such as access to greater revenue opportunities, recognition as a global player and greater market share. Ultimate success of course comes as a result of lots of careful planning, research, patience, dedication and more often than not, just plain good timing. But at the beginning of the 21st century, this is simply not enough. The difference between survival and ultimate success comes as a result of one critical ingredient – the creation of a global mindset!

You start to create a global or international mindset the very moment you take your decision to enter new international markets. Even before you have decided on a route to market, timescales, budgets and sales targets, your global blueprint starts at the very centre with your decision to do away with one major assumption – what works back home will apply in international markets. Don’t start with this, and you risk opening Pandora’s box even before you have achieved any success overseas.

So how then should you start to build this mindset inside your company? A global mindset can be seen as a “state of mind” – your firm’s ability to perceive both the differences and commonalities between different international markets when embarking on expansion. Start by identifying an “international champion” within your firm who can help you manage your expansion. Secondly, develop a program for attracting, hiring and retaining top international talent with seasoned international skills to ensure your success. Thirdly, put in place a training budget to help your staff prepare for overseas assignments. And finally, make sure that you have at the forefront of your agenda an effective international human resources policy that help you retain your international talent.

Global expansion is all about effecting change. Therefore your international champion should be a senior manager, director or VP of your firm, capable of driving and implementing that change both across and down your organization as it is implemented. But this is simply not enough in itself. You are also ideally looking for somebody with long and sustained first hand experience of the complexities of doing business globally, somebody who has lived and worked at the coalface in a variety of different cultures, is uniquely familiar with the differences in business cultures, and ideally, can speak a few languages. If this sounds like looking for a needle in a haystack within your organization, you may find you’ll need to source this individual externally.

Either way, a recruitment program to attract international talent into your firm should be at the top of your list. If you are looking for English-speaking candidates, make sure you candidates’ levels of international experience shines through on their resumes. In an age when supply of candidates exceeds demand, it is often tempting for candidates to “inflate” their resumes a little more to get the job. Make sure that you drill down into resumes, question the level of international experience and qualifications, and always obtain references. And watch out for people who say they speak “fluent”. Since language skills should go with the territory, and since you’re paying top dollars for your international talent, always ensure that fluent really means fluent, be as harsh as that, so make sure that you have a resource to check language skills. All too often, candidates claim they speak a fluent language, but put them in front of a client, and they can just about order a pizza. Your are hiring people to do business beyond your borders, so “fluent” means being able to hold a steady conversation with your clients and partners without having to fall back on the native language.

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There is a common misconception in the Anglo-Saxon world that senior multi-lingual staff can be expensive to hire, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Today, global talent moves across borders much more easily, so you may find that the candidate you were looking for just happens to live in the same city as you. Some Europeans are known to speak 3 or 4 languages for example, and if you can find them on your own doorstep, with your own industry experience. So by putting an ad first in a well known local or national newspaper yourself, you can often avoid an expensive international recruitment campaign that may take the candidate search to other countries.

Linguistic capabilities are important, but this is not enough. Your international champion must be uniquely familiar with the challenges of developing global business, and they will need to know what issues and challenges they will face at the very outset. For example, what are the day-to-day business implications of managing international teams remotely? How do I do business with the Germans? How do I export to India? What is my time to market if I compare acquisition vs. organic growth in Canada?