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Overseas Expansion: Is it important to have boots on the ground when bringing your business across the border?

Written by Latifa Yedroudj on Wednesday, 26 May 2021. Posted in Global, Scaling up, Interviews

Remote presence vs. Physical presence – does it matter? What are the pros and cons of both approaches?

Remote presence vs. Physical presence – does it matter? What are the pros and cons of both approaches? 

Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE, Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics, Anna Morsa, Group Commercial Director of Genuine Solutions Group, Natanel Bigger, CEO of Monpure and Rashida Abdulai, CEO of Strand Sahara, joined us for the first day of Elite Business on 11 March in the overseas expansion panel, discussing the importance of a physical presence in an international market and also addressed certain factors to take into consideration before bringing your firm abroad. 

Technology can aid businesses in expanding overseas without having boots on the ground. With a rise in remote working, many SMEs have opted for this option to expand their presence to international territories. However, Anna Morsa, Group Commercial Director for Genuine Solutions Group believes it is important for businesses to have a physical presence in a country when they are doing business, as there are a lot more factors to take into consideration such as understanding cultural norms and building relationships. 

“For us as a business, it’s all about relationships, it’s all about improving the services and like I said, the accreditation,” Anna Morsa said. “For us as an organisation, there’s pros and cons clearly for being in a country, but it has allowed us to flex and understand business models. I think from someone who myself has been global for over 20 years and to understand the locals and the landscape that you’re in or the market that you’re in or the nuances. There’s a lot of cultures that fit around being global. It’s not just a trade opportunity. What’s really important is to understand the nuances of who you’re trading with and that sometimes can’t be done remotely. 

Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE, Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics agreed with Anna in that having a physical presence in some way is essential, but also emphasised the importance of hiring the right staff in your chosen international territories who share the same values and goals of your business. “You have to follow the values first. I think Anna really made the point that if you are going to succeed in global markets then you have to put a part of you in those global markets,” Carl said. “It took me a couple of decades to learn the following: Put in place a regional global structure based around people that literally share your values and your hopes that are senior and can operate multi-sectoral. And for the on the ground boots that you’re referring to, be laser-focused in the appointment of distributors, partners, representatives who can focus specifically in those customer bases that you know you want to succeed in, and then you might flip the money outcome.” 

When it comes to expanding your business overseas, it is essential to understand the market you’re tapping into. Being physically present in a market or having a pre-conceived understanding of the demands and needs of your customer base abroad is paramount. “It’s about coming in with preconceived ideas about the market and would be suitable to people might want,” Rashida Abdulai, CEO of Strand Sahara said. “What I’ve realised is that we’ve had to really flex our offering for different markets. Not necessarily because it’s a different legal landscape, actually the issues are pretty much the same. It’s more about how do you appeal to the market, what are the things that they really care about? And so how do you make sure the way you package up your service is a way that appeals to them?” 

Bringing your business across the border can look tempting, considering thousands of potential customers based in various regions all over the world. However, it is important for businesses to thoroughly understand the logistics when it comes to packing their product or services overseas. Having a vision is great, but it is also important to take one step at a time and not ignore the details. “Thinking too big too early is something that entrepreneurs have to deal with. We see a big opportunity but it’s really laying one brick at a time. We have partnered internationally straight away, so if we’re looking at manufacturing in Germany, or some of our sustainable packaging parts come from Asia because they’re not available in Europe. And then we launched amid the pandemic and all of a sudden, your freight costs go up 800%… In hindsight, having that local solution would have given us a lot less of a headache to deal with. The vision should be big but the steps should be small and there are no shortcuts for that either.”

About the Author

Latifa Yedroudj

Latifa Yedroudj

Latifa Yedroudj has joined the Elite team to fully immerse herself in the business side of journalism, a strong passion of hers cultivated from young having co-run her mother's start up business since she was 18. Her interests lie in a wide range of subjects, including start ups, business, travel, and anything entrepreneurial she can get her hands on. She has worked for some of the biggest names in journalism including The Guardian and The Mirror. Follow her on @latifayed on Twitter for her latest journo rants.

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