Overseas expansion: how to do it right

16th April 2024

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You don’t have to be a large company to benefit from the international market. This article outlines key considerations when you’re looking to expand.


It make sense for the working language of a cross-border enterprise to be English, and there’s no need to be ashamed if you lack proficiency in other languages. However, you can’t run a business in a non-English speaking company if you have absolutely no-one with knowledge of the target market’s language.

Remember that even when counterparties apparently speak fluent English, if it is not their native language, their experience of your conversation or drafting will be very different to that of a native speaker. It is therefore useful to hire someone with fluency in another foreign language – even if it is not a language of immediate relevance, because that knowledge of a foreign language may bring an understanding of the pitfalls of cross-cultural communication.

It’s more likely that a proven linguist will be able to learn a new language if necessary. It is also a good idea to translate your written documentation – especially marketing verbiage – even when not required to do so by law.

Culture and team

Corporate policies and efficient processes are not enough for overseas expansion. Culture is even more important. Misunderstandings are inevitable. Certain key aspects of culture are acceptable in some countries but not in others. These include chatting and joking, accountability, hierarchies, punctuality, reporting lines, direct criticism, giving praise, personal observations and many others. It is not possible to get these right by reading a bluffer’s guide, although trying to learn is always better than making no effort at all. It would be more practical to hire people from the relevant culture.

It is also useful to employ people who have lived abroad for some time. In large multinationals, it is common to prefer individuals in certain key roles if they have international experience, rather than hiring people with more advanced core skills who have only worked locally.

Product adaption

Whether you provide a product or service, it is always important to adapt it to the relevant market. You may well believe that part of what is valued is the authentic Britishness that you offer. But your idea of Britishness may be different to those of your market. If it really is key to your service – and most of the time it isn’t – then it should be a carefully curated version of Britain that ties in with a stereotype as seen in the target country. Otherwise, just concentrate on pleasing the buyers. The best way of doing this is, again, hiring people who are local to the target market.

Fresh thinking

A creative mindset is important to cross-border success. Because overseas expansion by definition means coming up against new concepts, it is important to have staff who are open to change. It is also necessary to be able to adapt to change relatively quickly. This ability sometimes comes at the expense of discipline and routine, and so there needs to be flexibility built into all aspects of management. Assume that your financial projections and profits will come from different aspects of the business than you expected.

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