Through our work with companies pursuing ambitious expansion initiatives, we’ve recognized a simple yet vital best practice shared by the most successful ones: a commitment to understanding the challenges and common missteps of expansion before ever even starting. And while every international growth plan is unique, this practice delivers a competitive boost. It’s an overlooked form of practical due diligence, if you will.
As Blueback Global’s Chief of Operations, I spend weeks on the road every quarter huddled with prospects and clients planning growth strategies and execution. Naturally, establishing a clear why and getting buy-in from relevant stakeholders before deciding to make the move is critical. Any growth initiative, be it M&A or targeted multi-country entry, needs to be a part of an overarching strategic business plan. But having this strategic impetus for green-lighting cross-border expansion is just a start.
After deciding yes, those companies that ultimately achieve success deliberately go fact-finding. Whether you are a burgeoning startup or an established Fortune 500, tapping a peer community that has already navigated expansion is an invaluable, underappreciated, and surprisingly easy practice. Whether you are a CFO or Head of HR/People, remember: others have walked the same path, probably struggled with the same conflicting priorities, juggled complex plans, and weighed the risks of pushing ahead. This outsider perspective offers a trove of pragmatic insight and advice. Successful expansion execution, like anything else, is a learned skill. By pairing the lessons of your peers with an expert consultant and/or solution provider, you can fast-track your learning and create desired outcomes – and never be left making decisions in a vacuum.
While expansion nuances will always require discernment and a willingness to take some risks, consulting with those who have been there, done that makes things a lot easier. Insightful discussions with experienced, battle-scarred leaders are worth a hundred times more than even the most thoughtful plan that lacks viewpoints from those with first-hand experience.
For those considering expansion overseas, here are a few ideas for tapping into the wisdom of your professional friends and industry peers.
#1 Take advantage of Case Studies
Most service providers will offer case studies showing how they met a client in the midst of their expansion trouble and helped them to the other side. These studies are helpful to discern how an expert tackles problems, and to understand their tactical approach and execution.
After considering case study anecdotes, take the next step: ask a current or prospective service provider to get you connected with a client who has been through a similar experience. This “reference checking” conversation, if you’re prepared, can be a goldmine of best-practice information. It doesn’t have to be explicitly about vetting the service provider, it can – and should – focus on what the company learned, what they would do differently next time, where they were best prepared, and where they underestimated issues or overlooked certain factors.
#2 Take advantage of industry roundtables
Be on the lookout for, and take advantage of, events that offer industry-specific or subject matter-specific expansion roundtables. Yes, they exist! These drive healthy discussion, better prepare companies for the jump, and solidify third-party relationships and partnerships. Of course, they benefit service provider hosts. But for companies interested in expanding, these events mean a free learning experience. It’s open season on a captive audience of subject matter experts!
Blueback, for example, is hosting an event later this year exclusively for HR leaders contemplating or executing a venture internationally. Titled, “What You Need to Know About International Expansion: Employing People Overseas”, this event is an education opportunity for those considering the global growth journey. Do we expect to land a client there? No, not necessarily – although oftentimes this is exactly how fruitful business discussions start. What we do expect is that a collaborative day between Blueback, delegates from various clients and prospects who have gone through the process or are embarking on it now and other partners, will deliver valuable learnings. Observers can use an experience like this to get straight answers to pressing questions from those who know best.
#3 Consider growth conferences to supplement networking
Our team is admittedly cautious when it comes to endorsing the conference or trade show circuit. Resources can get quickly flushed with little ROI given the size and general nature of most industry conferences. But there is a subset of growth-focused events that can be useful, though capturing conference benefit is about preparation. Companies should not go passively and expect that a standard track of keynotes or breakout sessions will address their specific expansion scenarios and questions.
The topics are often too broad, the expansion conversations too high-level and attendance too massive to achieve anything meaningful. Instead, if there is interest in a conference, consider preparing an agenda in advance; organize meetings, networking get-togethers or focused conversations prior to arriving onsite.
Perhaps you recall a press release from a peer highlighting their recent global growth efforts. Grab some time with that company representative to learn from their experience. Ask them for 2-3 recommendations on others you could connect with or learn what sources they found helpful during their due diligence process.
Expansion success is the sum of committed internal leadership, competent service providers, a clear, guiding vision for how global growth fits in the overall company agenda and some homework. This gets radically enhanced when you know the ‘gotchas’, challenges and what to anticipate before you even begin.
Don’t let the full scope of your research be website content or conversations with providers’ sales teams. Make your own knowledge and experience transfer a must-do. Knowing why a peer chose a PEO employment structure instead of an independent contractor or hiring in-house through an internal entity, is a decision with significant financial, legal and other softer implications. It’s these types of situational aha issues that can shape your path to success globally.