You may be doing business in another country, and there may be some local customs that differ from what is done in the States, but it’s still your brand, and it still needs to be recognizable abroad.
That moment when you realize you’re ready to take your business international is exciting, and it’s even more rewarding when you see its expansion succeed.
United Franchise Group is in more than 60 countries and we continue to grow our global footprint. Our international presence is solid enough that we can offer expertise to new and potential franchise owners about operating in their own countries. One reason we’ve been so successful is that we’ve always said, “If you want to grow, you have to go.” We believe in getting to know our global markets in a genuine way, by going and spending time in the countries we want to grow in. It’s the best, most revealing kind of research.
Here are three tips to help get you started on your international expansion journey.
1. VISIT THE COUNTRY IN PERSON
Traditional market reporting and analysis are valuable, butstatistics won’t tell the whole story. Go beyond the numbers and spend time in the country you’re considering. You should visit your target country and keep going back until you meet and get to know the people in your industry, from vendors and suppliers to competitors. It’s vitally important to understand the local market and culture and how your brand will fit into it.
In my experience, one to three visits aren’t enough. Your team should visit regularly, and your owner or CEO should go multiple times to show they are in favor of the expansion. For reference, I have visited Australia alone 51 times, and I’d like to think that has had something to do with our success down under.
To put this into perspective, one of our franchise brands, Transworld Business Advisors, recently expanded to new countries in 2021 and 2022. The business climate was right in both cases, and we met with the right local leaders to establish Transworld in the Middle East and the Caribbean. We engaged with leaders in person, visited both areas, asked the right questions, and listened carefully.
In the Transworld expansions, we didn’t just open global branches—we formed new companies in their home countries. We believe in operating separate corporations, with even a separate ownership team. It’s an approach that makes sense for us, but it may not work for everyone.
2. UNDERSTAND CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC DIFFERENCES
Visiting in person can also give you a better sense of the unwritten rules that every culture lives by. The cultural and economic differences will be big factors in how you succeed or fail—perhaps even more than business issues you are prepared to handle.
Fixing a broken supply chain across nations is a piece of cake compared to settling cultural clashes that result from misunderstandings. If your company has a relaxed attitude toward working hours, how will you manage in a culture where executives routinely work overtime? If you’re expanding to a European country where employees often get more vacation time than Americans take, can you adjust?
When you visit your chosen country, be sure to devote a substantial amount of time to understanding these cultural differences. Observe things like how teams interact with each other, what workflow practices they follow, and how their days begin and end. And don’t be afraid to just ask how things are done. You won’t lose points for asking obvious questions; you’ll probably earn a few for showing you aren’t just a foreign team coming in to impose your ways on them and that you care enough to ask how you can fit in. Lastly, attending a sporting event in the country can give you more insight into the masses.
3. HAVE A SOLID LEADER TO START IT OFF
Whether that’s a local expert or someone from your home office, be sure they have the skills and experience to take your team and your company to the next level of success.
Like most other factors in an international expansion, the team leader you choose depends on your company’s needs. Hiring someone from your international location can help you navigate the local challenges, but I also believe in relocating a key domestic employee to the country to bring your company culture to the business there. You need someone who thoroughly understands your business and can guide the local team in representing your brand and staying faithful to it.
You may be doing business in another country, and there may be some local customs that differ from what is done in the States, but it’s still your brand, and it still needs to be recognizable abroad. No matter what language they speak when selling your brand, remember that your company name, mission, and values haven’t changed. While you want to learn the country culture you are moving into, be sure you don’t lose the company culture that made you successful in the first place.