How to expand internationally without losing the local feel

When you start a business, you look to solve a problem or seize a market opportunity in a particular sector.

How to expand internationally without losing the local feel

When you start a business, you look to solve a problem or seize a market opportunity in a particular sector. Business leaders across the world have international ambitions and will jump at the chance should it arise. However, as many business leaders in the past have found out, there are many factors you must consider when exploring international expansion. You may be deeply passionate about your business idea, but this passion can potentially blind you when exploring new markets.

As the leader of your business, there are a number of high impact decisions and factors you must consider to ensure that your product or service is able to land with the right message with the right benefits to a new audience. As many have said before, failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and for many this failure comes in the form of monetary or reputational loss.

I have been proud to help drive the growth of Virtuo in multiple cities and transports hubs across France, Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom. With the learnings I have developed with these experiences, I have pulled together 4 key factors you should consider if and when you want to expand internationally.

  1. Get under the skin of the local culture and perceptions

You cannot disregard the importance of small cultural intricacies of different countries, no matter how similar you may consider the cultures to be. For example launching a company in France is completely different to launching a company in the UK, even if they’re only a short train or flight away and hold similar western values.

Before entering a new market, you need to take time to get under the skin of their culture and see how your product or service fits within this. What are their cultural norms? What do they like what don’t they like? What could be considered offensive?  

Understanding what consumers in each country positively react to will help you decide on whether it’s a sound decision to expand there. It will impact on your branding, messaging and what services you provide. Furthermore, it’s important to consider that this should also be taken a step further, and different cities and regions should also be measured when it comes to cultural considerations.

  1. Local feet on the ground

Expanding to a new country or region should always begin with the hire of someone from that particular area, since local feet on the ground will ensure that messaging and branding are accurate and effective. Ensuring there’s a mix of local talent and knowledge will provide locality to your business offering and avoid any chance of poor translation, for example.

Having local talent also helps provide an authentic, customised feel of the company to that country. Even the most international, large corporate companies can feel local if they can use the same language without any hiccups and better understand the market around them. Even though technology is expanding and developing constantly, human contact and support are critical for consumers when it comes to customer service. If a customer has a query and can’t speak to someone who speaks the same language and is on the same time-zone, it could ruin the positive sentiment its built as a ‘local’ company.

A local employee will also help your business to understand the scope of competition in that area as well as the best ones to partner with that could benefit your business. When moving into a new territory, it’s important to understand the sentiment of different companies in the same space, and mould and adapt your offering to fill the gaps.  

Capacity to pivot

A company typically expands when it has succeeded in its first location, as it has built a strong reputation and process. However, this doesn’t mean that this will be the same at every destination.

When Virtuo launched, we based the product on the frustrations of the airport car rental industry to solve the issues so commonly faced by consumers: long waiting queues, unavailable cars and hidden fees. We focused on this initially, but as we developed and expanded into different cities across France and the UK, we realised that actually there was a huge need for our services in cities as well. Consumers couldn’t hire a car to escape the city easily and seamlessly, and within a decent distance. This was a huge learning curve for us all and we had to change our business plan to meet the demands of the international market.

Business leaders shouldn’t be afraid to modify their offering and make it fit to the audience. In the long run, this move will be very beneficial.

Comply with regulations

Companies moving abroad must also comply with the local regulations. Compliance varies across different countries and processes can take much longer in one country to another. At Virtuo, we have made it a priority to have a strong understanding of the legal infrastructure of each country will ensure that expansion is a smooth one. Some parts of the business could be moved over without any problem, others might need to be adapted and changed to ensure it remains compliant. Having a legal expert in each territory is very desirable to ensure that you don’t get caught short. It will also impact on hiring staff in different territories and understanding what the different working regulations are to make sure that there are fair working standards.

At Virtuo, we had to understand the different legalities around drivers’ licences and the restrictions placed on hire cars across each country. The DVLA has very specific requirements when hiring a car in the UK, that are different to what is required in France, for example. It was important that when we expanded into the UK that all our terms and conditions complied with the DVLA’s requirements and other agencies across the world.

To this point, it’s important to maintain a strong working morale across the different territories. Make sure that everyone feels like they’re in a team working together to the same end goal, even if they are in different countries. Bring together the teams in one country at least once a quarter where possible, or once a year for team building and for employees to learn more about new cultures and their colleagues. A happy team makes for a happy consumer.

Expanding internationally is a hugely exciting time for a young company. However, make sure that each different culture is considered, there are local feet on the ground to understand legalities and interact with consumers, and you’re agile enough to pivot your offering if needed. These steps will ensure that you can continue successful growth globally, whilst remaining local to each and every consumer.

Karim Kaddoura
Karim Kaddoura

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