Transforming a service business into a global operation isn’t a light undertaking. The opportunities and rewards are big, but so are the risks.
For firms with global clients, expanding services into new markets is the logical next step. But actually taking that step will require careful planning, research and patience.
We learned some valuable lessons when we expanded services at Cutler PR into new markets. Here are the key pieces of advice expanding service businesses should know:
1. Strengthen the home operation first.
Before we expanded our services to other markets at Cutler PR, we were asked several times if we offered services in the U.K. Although there was client interest in expansion, we said no each time. Why?
We weren’t ready.
Instead of jumping into global services, we spent five years learning about our home market in the U.S. and building a solid foundation.
Before a business can expand its services to markets around the world, it needs to become stable and mature in the home market first. Although it may be tempting to oblige clients, expanding prematurely can lead to failure. The business needs to be a solid operation before leaders even think about moving to new markets.
Take the time to build a strong reputation, team, client base and understanding of the industry in the home market.
2. Pick markets that make sense.
When we did reach a point when we could begin to think about dedicating resources, time and attention to services in other countries, we didn’t choose new markets at random. Instead, we focused on markets we were familiar with.
One of our clients was working on a project in the U.K. and had expressed interest in Asia. Based on those client needs, we focused on learning about the nuances of each market.
Pick markets that make sense in terms of business needs, client needs and resources or industry connections.
After identifying the market, do some research before diving in headfirst.
Find ways to work around time differences, understand how the business and services will need to adjust to cultural differences, and get a sense for the current industry trends in that location.
3. Inform clients of the expansion.
When we felt we could start selling our services in our new markets, we let our clients know about the expansion. Using newsletters, individually tailored messages, meetings and pitches, we told our customers about the firm’s new capabilities and their potential value to the client.
Once the business is ready to sell services in the new market, don’t keep it a secret. Let existing clients know about the expanded services. Getting the word out to customers is a good way to bring in business geared toward the new market. Explain what the expanded services mean for them, and how they could help to better meet their needs.
What do you think? What are the most important steps service businesses need to make during expansion?