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How to expand your business from a domestic player to the global stage by Wesley Kent, Sales Director at Fireco

This could be for a new product, first into their market, or a service, to surpass all other services. This idea becomes a business plan, has a marketing and sales strategy, teams are recruited and hopefully sales are generated and profits made.  

For many when they have their ‘lightbulb’ moment, the reach and extent of their customers are those they know – either locally within their community, or within the UK.

However, the Internet has changed the landscape of business. Allowing potential customers from far and wide to see what products and services are available from Australia to Antarctica and all those places in-between.

So how do you take your brand from a successful domestic company to an organisation that plays on a global platform?

A report by the Institute of Directors in 2011 showed that only half of its members are trading international, leaving a lot of potential and missed opportunities. A further survey from the British Chamber of Commerce in 2013 shows that only 39% of its members are actively exporting outside of the UK and the majority of these (80%) only trade in EU countries.

With the pound weak and the recession continuing to bite, expanding your market outside of your own doorstep can be a great way of increasing your bottom line. 

At Fireco, we have offices in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, so we know a thing or two about trading internationally.

Here are my top five tips of how to take your business onto an international platform:

1.             Become Cultured

It goes without saying that different countries have different cultures. However, many underestimate how important it is to understand both the business and social culture in a different country. 

You must remember that the way you operate your business will be determined by the culture of the country you are trading in and not the culture of your company, which means you might need to adapt your ways of working across different markets.

Likewise, don’t think if you begin to trade in one country, a similar country close by will have the same cultural traits. It is estimated that in each Africa and Asia there are up to 2,000 different languages alone reflecting different communities and ways of working.

It is important to research the culture of the country that you intend to sell to, understand the customers there and possibly have a local contact on the ground to help you navigate the protocol of trading within a different culture.

2.             Don’t underestimate the competition

Competitors are complex when you speak their language and know their background. However, working in a different country brings a more dynamic challenge from competitors which will have different levels of influence and power within the country they operate as well having possibly already built brand loyalty with some of the potential audience.

Again, intelligence and knowledge is the best way to deal with competition. Knowing how to make your products or services better or being able to communicate what you sell to the audience is key in making sure you grow your market share.

Look at how they market to their customers. Get to know the local media and increase your profile with potential customers with PR and possibly advertising before you launch.  Remember, just like customers in the domestic, customers abroad will want to know who you are, and trust your company before they do business with you. This means you need to invest in increasing your profile before you even make a sale.

3.             Political and Legal Considerations

It is key that you take legal advice when looking to trade in other countries. Not only will other markets come with their own rules and regulations but practices which might be acceptable in the UK, might be illegal or seen as bad business practice abroad. 

Countries determine their laws based on their citizens and their culture. Remember it can sometimes be a thin line between what is acceptable and what is legal. 

As an international operator you will also need to advise the UK authorities and check VAT and other financial implications that might favour or change with monies being generated from abroad.

If you are employing staff and offices abroad you will also need to understand the countries systems for payment and taxes, pensions, maternity and paternity and other benefits as these are likely to be different than those in the UK.

Remember that you are operating within a different country’s systems – political, legal and financial and you are bound by their laws for every sale you make.

4.             Technology and logistics

It goes as a given that technology can vary significantly in different markets, yet it is key to appreciate that the technical skills and knowledge of local people can also differ widely. In some countries, your systems back home might look antiquated and in others far too sophisticated. Again think about these issues before you set up rather than experiencing them as “teething” problems when your business is up and running.

We have found inviting local influencers to our UK office helps us to show them how we operate, our products and why we think we are different. Sometimes this is a customer who might want to see how we do things in our workshops, or sometimes it is an employee who is teaching us about their market and us teaching them about ours. It is important to realise that it is a two-way process when working internationally not just simply selling in a different country.

5.             Different opportunities in different markets

Be open minded. At Fireco, we realised early on that our fire safety products were just as relevant in Iraq as they are in Ireland. We set up British Fire & Security, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fireco, out in the Middle East  to sell to a market that wants to buy British. 

Sometimes once you start trading you realise that what might be saturated in the UK market isn’t available at all in your new market so you can diversify or look to work with other UK companies to become a distributor of similar industry products and services.

An example of this is Fireco’s Dorgard X system that enables fire doors to be kept open safely and legally.  As it can be hardwired into an existing system it can it is often suited the export market who don’t yet understand wire-free products. Likewise, Deafgard is a best seller abroad. A wireless unit with a pad attachment that is activated if a fire alarm goes off, there are fewer competitor products providing this service in the international market.

Taking your company global is a way of maximising your opportunities, spreading your risk and widening your horizons.  There is no doubt that as the Internet continues to play such a massive role in our professional lives, the need to be able to service other countries will continue to grow and the potential remains huge.  Make sure you have thought ahead of where you could be – literally – in five and ten years time and aim high and wide.

Wesley Kent is the Sales and Marketing Director at Fireco.   He has driven Fireco’s new products such as Dorgard, Freedor and Deafgard into many new global markets in the UK over the past 10 years.  Wesley is also a founder of British Fire and Security.