Photo: iStock

According to a recent survey by Gartner Inc, growth was the top priority for chief executive officers in 2019, and it will continue to be in 2020. Along with growth, cost and risk management will be the areas that industry-leading executives will focus most of their energy on.

But we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket. Regardless of the size of our business, we should be planning for growth. Especially for the sort of growth that diversifies our risk.

Expanding abroad is one of the most potentially rewarding paths we could take to grow our business. It diversifies our risk, mitigates the effects of negative changes in our home market, and breathes new life into our products and into our company.

When the market you’re in is starting to feel way too small, it might be the right time to look for opportunities away from home. Expansion might also be a great move if your products are seasonal, or if you’ve found a clear market gap in a neighboring and/or thriving economy.

Of course, be careful. The importance of research and ongoing analysis can’t be overstated. Several experts fear a global recession, so you’ll need to plan for the unexpected.

Is your company ready?

Whether international expansion is the key to growth for your particular business will depend on several factors. Some have to do with your industry. Other factors are fully internal, and determine your success in particular. For instance, your business’ current financial conditions and your management style.

First and foremost, carry out extensive research. Find a country that’s culturally, politically, or regulatorily similar to yours  –  or just one that has a clear market gap that your products could fit right into. Conduct deep market research, take a sober look at country risk, and look for foreign partners who can advise and support you through this process. Remember that success is always driven by amazing human resources.

Competitors your greatest teachers

Take a close look at what your competition is doing, both locally and in your target market. Learn from their mistakes and reaffirm (or reconsider) your competitive advantages.

Nowadays, expanding your business won’t necessarily be about expanding its physical presence. You can expand from the comfort of your home country.

Digital vs traditional expansion

As coach Kev Martin recently wrote, we should invest in our people, not only our stakeholders. But the tools we use and the platforms we take part in are as important as the talent we employ. We need good tools to operate and grow, and we need a proper setting where we could make the most out of them.

When you’re planning to take the leap of expanding your business to a foreign market, you can rely on a booming business-to-business sector to support you. Hunt for innovative, tech-driven solutions to facilitate and optimize all aspects of expansion: From logistics to proper customer service, localized digital marketing, professional translation services, and website localization.

Expanding a business in the digital age is not about expanding your physical presence. This lowers the cost and risk of expansion, but it doesn’t erase cultural or regulatory differences between your home and target countries.

Even if your expansion will be purely digital, think of it as if you were opening a new physical store. For instance, let’s say your brand is based in New York, and you’re opening a Parisian location. Your storefront should be recognizable as one of your brand  –  but you wouldn’t make a detailed reproduction of your American storefront. You need to find the common ground between your brand and the preferences of your new customers.

When you enter the store, the distribution and presentation of the products might be the same, but you’d expect the employees to communicate with customers in their own language  – right? Well, it’s exactly the same for your new online presence. It should be clearly yours, well-branded and consistent with the visual identity of your brand, but it should be localized for your new target audience.

The Internet has reshaped all aspects of our life, especially through social media and the Internet of Things. Businesses now have an ever-growing kit of amazing tools to drive growth.

Meanwhile, globalization and dynamic cultural exchange might lead us to believe that expanding digitally will require no major adaptation or learning process. But globalization doesn’t fully erase cultural differences. And there are some timeless principles to enticing customers that globalization hasn’t changed: People like to feel that brands understand them, and talk to them in their own terms.

Engaging international customers

Now, we can access precise, real information about our target demographic, know what they’re interested in, what they like about our product, and what aspects we should improve. We know where our customers hang out, we know what they’re talking about, and we know how to make them feel closer to our product. And we have the tools to act accordingly, in real time.

We can also learn how customers behave on our website, test conversion strategies, and adopt a multichannel approach to marketing and selling without breaking the bank. Gathering this information, learning from it, and using it to constantly improve our processes is key to establishing a robust international business.

 Thanks to the increased dominance of e-commerce, and the overpowering and refinement of a data-driven approach, the costs, and risks associated with international expansion are lowering, becoming easier to control and easier to calculate. Analytic tools have also made it possible to get to know our customers before ever interacting with them.

Growing your business in the digital age is a multifaceted creative endeavor. And in 2020, the most technologically advanced, effective resources to grow, operate and scale an international business will be available to businesses of almost all budgets. So expanding abroad in 2020 isn’t only highly convenient, it’s also highly comfortable. Today you can operate an international company, without ever setting foot in an airport.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Elliot Rhodes

Elliot Rhodes is a financial analyst and instructor, who enjoys using what he has learned from seven years of studying business and money to help others achieve financial stability. He recently co-founded 247 Call, a call-center service provider.