South African Entrepreneur, Jo Farah's 5 Tips For Scaling Globally

You might think you're ready to launch into markets abroad. But without careful planning, you could be setting your business up to fail.

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Planning is the cornerstone of any business' operations, and it's imperative to developing an understanding of how you're going to make money, and when you're going to turn profit. But there are other aspects of planning that are vital when scaling your business to the international market.


There are five planning aspects you need to crack before you can send off that first shipment.

1. Know where you're going

Make sure you understand the territories you want to expand into and carry out as much market research as possible. Some territories have a unique culture and way of doing business, which is what Sneaker LAB found when expanding into Japan and the USA.

Related: 7 South African Entrepreneurs Who Went From Nothing To Global Success

If you don't understand this, you could end up spending money for very little return.

2. Start with small steps

Beware the allure of rapid growth. Rather take your time to grow and focus on expanding into one territory at a time.

Start with the territories that will offer the fastest return on your investment – this will be based on the detailed market research you've carried out.

The company first expanded into the Scandinavian regions – an area that responded well to our sneaker protector range due to wetter climate and our credentials as being the only Green TAG certified sneaker care product also made a big difference.

Related: 7 Lessons In Taking Your Product Global

Sneaker LAB's expansion decisions have been based on territories that have a strong sneaker culture and consumers with disposable income. We gained traction by supplying smaller boutique stores as well as attending trade shows to create brand equity in the territory.

3. Use your home ground advantage

Your local market is the best place to learn the skills you need to scale your business. South Africa provided the networking opportunities and retail partners which laid the foundation for our growth.

When Sneaker LAB started, our products were a non-existent category in the retail space – while you could buy shoe cleaner in grocery stores, it wasn't available in the store with your sneakers.

Our local partnerships taught us about retail operations and how to reach our consumers.

Related: The Growth Mindset That Has Taken This Local Company Global

This knowledge has been the building blocks we used to scale globally and any business should focus on getting their process flawless with local retailers before expanding.

4. Find a support team

Choose distributors who are passionate about your product. When you're a smaller brand, you can become just a page in a catalogue of a big distributor.

We chose to rather go with smaller distributors who bought into our brand ethos. As Sneaker LAB grew, we eventually moved to bigger partners that could support our scale.

5. Build brand equity

We realised we had to keep investing in our brand equity to crack the international market. People need to know who you are in order for consumers to buy your brand and for retailers to stock it.

Related: How Bertus Albertse Built an R80-Million Global Business From His Living Room

In hindsight, I would have incorporated public relations into our marketing plan earlier to help build brand equity, credibility and protect our brand.

Some of our international competitors tried to copy our product; our stronger marketing and communications plan helped to ensure we had the brand equity that made their attempts unsuccessful.

You might not have a big budget when you're starting out, but that shouldn't stop you – a large amount of Sneaker LAB's marketing plan is based online, through social media, to help build global brand equity.

Related: How COLONYLive Went From Local Startup To Global Platform