Once you have transformed an idea into a successful company with impressive growth, it can be tempting to become a creature of habit—to fall into patterns in the way you do business and not want to shake up what has worked for you before.
As you strive onward and upward, and your company begins to expand into new countries, I can’t stress enough the importance of flexibility. Success comes from the ability to fluidly adjust to any new opportunity. It might be tempting to rely on the old way of doing business in your home country, but different markets are an entirely foreign world.
I started finder.com ten years ago in Australia, and the company has since become the country’s number one comparison site, comparing anything from business loans and money transfers, to travel insurance and shopping coupons.
We expanded into the U.S. as our first overseas venture, then more recently, the U.K. (we won’t be stopping there, though!). These countries are all English-speaking, but the similarities end there. The learning curve was steep!
This is where doing your research comes in. Whether you already have a successful idea and are looking to branch out globally, or are wondering how to research your market, these are some of the methods I’ve learned along the way.
Where do you start?
Defining what your service will offer in the new market and your goals is the best place to start. What problem are you aiming to solve? This will generally be the same no matter where you attempt to expand. At finder, across all countries, we offer the same thing: a comparison tool to help people make better-informed decisions. Our goal? To become number one. Isn’t that every company’s dream?
From there, you can look into the different ways of gathering raw data on the new market. This could take the form of surveys or focus groups in that country to see how people respond to your product. At finder, in the very early stages, we start with a skeleton or very basic website. That way, we can see which section of our site users click to and how many visit, to see if it’s worth expanding into.
We have skeleton sites all across the globe gathering data from Belgium to South Africa. But this only works well for us because we’re offering a digital product—a physical one would do better taking a different route.
Online tools, both free and paid, can be helpful in this instance. Some examples of free options are Google’s Marketer’s Almanac, which provides information on consumer browsing behavior, and Business Dynamic Statistics, which analyzes census data. The paid options tend to offer more detailed data. Userlytics is a great platform for user testing, while Survata is helpful when putting out surveys.
Of course, the software you choose can depend on the country you’re expanding into. We use different survey software, for example, when we’re gathering data for U.K. versus U.S. enterprises.
Chances are, you’re going to end up with a lot of raw data from whatever method of research you undertake. Before going any further, organize it into a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are your friend—they give you so many options for presenting your data and it’s much better than having boxes filled with reams of paper.
Excel is the most obvious choice here, but there is other, lesser known software options, like SPSS Statistics or Minitab. Run summaries, create graphs and tables, break it down by gender, age, and whatever else is appropriate, and analyze it all for trends. Once it’s all together, you can easily present it to the rest of your team and see where to go from there.
You’re set on a country—now what?
So your company has set its sights on a specific country. Now is the time for more in-depth research! Your preliminary research should be different to your in-depth study. It also pays to document every part of your process clearly, so you can come back and reuse (or refine) your process again if you decide to tackle a new country.
You have a few options here, but I’ve found that using a mixture of tools tends to work better than just using one. The online tools mentioned above can help gain a more in-depth knowledge, but this is where you shift gears a bit. Instead of relying on data and the internet, it’s time to get a proper feel for the country from the people.
There’s no better way to do this than visiting the country itself. I would recommend traveling there at least twice before setting up. Plan ahead and fill your time productively.
I ended up going to the U.S. three times so I could be on the ground and get a real feel for the place before launching. I looked into where to set up, which meant researching the areas that attracted the best talent. I also gained an understanding of the local news—how it differed from Australia and what stories were attractive—and could see first-hand where we might run into issues. And, of course, let’s not forget the importance of networking!
Making contacts in the country you wish to launch is invaluable. From wherever you’re based, you can use LinkedIn to connect with people in that industry, or even business owners, and build a relationship from there. Then, when you land, you already have the bare bones of a network. Something as simple as buying someone a coffee can provide a huge return on investment.
Chances are, there’s already going to be an established company in whatever country you’re considering that is doing something similar to what you want.
This is where competitor analysis comes in. You can learn a lot by keeping a close eye on your competitors, seeing what they do well and what they don’t. Perhaps you can come in and do something they tried, but better.
Start out by identifying your top three competitors and go from there. Analysis can always be purchased, but it is possible to do it yourself. Some questions to start you off:
- What is their range of products or services?
- What is their target audience compared to mine?
- What are the positives and negatives, from the point of view of their consumers?
- What is their competitive advantage?
- What is their marketing and promotional strategy?
- What percentage of the market share do they control?
- What is their company structure like? Are they growing?
But how would you get this information? Gather all you can about these companies. Look at where they advertise and what products they feature, set up a Google Alert to track their media mentions, see if they’re mentioned in any databases. If they’re a publicly held company, you can find annual reports.
It can even be as simple as talking to an employee at a convention or event, though by no means should you ever use an alias or be dishonest to gather this information.
Mistakes are bound to happen
You won’t get it perfect the first time. Probably not even the third, fourth, or even tenth time. Each country is different, so prepare to bumble along at times. Remember that each mistake is the opportunity for a new learning, and if you’re not making mistakes you’re not trying hard enough.
At finder, we consider ourselves very knowledgeable about personal finance, which includes money transfers. We have entire pages on it!
Yet, even we make mistakes. For example, when launching in the U.K., we outsourced work to a lot of freelancers around the globe to get things up and running. When payment time came around, we lost a lot of money to wire transfers and were hit by terrible currency exchange rates. As we’d used these options before, we had thought they were the most convenient.
In hindsight, we should’ve taken the time to research and switch to a better provider. Indeed, when we conducted a study into money transfers, we found that banks charge a higher fee than the global average when transferring money across borders.
Entering into a new country is all new territory. Take eBay, for example. They tried to expand into China and failed miserably, relying too heavily on their strong brand name. Yet when they tried again with a different approach, forming a partnership with a local company, they had more success. It’s a learning process—everything won’t go smoothly at first.
According to a British Chambers of Commerce survey, 55 percent of businesses saw a positive impact on their bottom line within 12 months of expanding internationally. It may be difficult at first, but it’s impossible for me to regret taking finder global!