The twin challenges of international business


By Grant Hall.

Doing business in foreign markets is difficult; many otherwise successful companies have tried and failed spectacularly.

Broadly speaking, there are two main challenges that your business will face in its overseas operations:

The need to get the business aspects of your operations right, and
The need to get the cultural aspects of your operations right.

If you’re venturing abroad in order to grow your business, the systems and strategies that brought you success in your home country won’t automatically translate to new markets.

Internationalising your business brings about new layers of complexity that need to be addressed. For example, in your home country you might not need to worry about how best to manage teams in disparate locations employing staff from a diverse range of cultures and language groups. Staying in your own country you won’t have to worry about foreign HR laws, international tariffs, customs tax and so on. These are business aspects that you need to be on top of when you venture into new markets.

Thankfully there are experts who can help you get the business aspects of your venture right when operating abroad (I’m not one of them!). Definitive Growth Strategies, for example, is a company that works with North American manufacturers to develop and implement strategies to grow sales into international markets.

Additionally, there are also layers of cultural complexity and subtlety that you will need to engage with. How do you negotiate in your new market, what behaviors are expected of you, does your product fit with the lifestyles of the people in your new market?

Many companies that have failed abroad did so through an inability to connect with buyers and business partners at a cultural level. Some companies incorrectly blame business aspects for their failure when their venture’s demise was actually due to cultural reasons.

Just as there are experts who can help you get the business aspects of your venture right there are also consultants (like me) who can help you get the cultural aspects of your venture right when operating abroad.

With often dire consequences, culture is often overlooked by businesses seeking success in new markets.

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