How to Succeed in International Markets

Strategize, build an army and make sure you do all your homework.

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By Cynthia Johnson

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Entrepreneurs have plenty to consider before expanding their business to international markets. In order to land smoothly elsewhere, entrepreneurs need a sturdy launch pad with strong internal management to handle an influx of new responsibilities. Good timing, international competition and integration into a different culture are also critical to this process. With talent acquisition, new sales processes and varying business models, this can seem daunting. But don't let this scare you off from international expansion. All it takes is preparation and education.

Related: A Framework for Expanding Your Business Internationally

Luckily, there are experts to help companies on this journey. Global executive, keynote speaker and business expert Ryan Patel helps to ensure that public and private brands can grow outside of their native regions. Under his watch as V.P. of Global Development, Patel helped Pinkberry expand from just under 95 locations to more than 265 stores in 23 countries. Here is his advice for what all businesses should have in their toolkit before making the jump to new territory.


Start with a clear plan to highlight short-term and long-term growth goals. Companies can seize the best opportunities when their leaders fully understand the potential locations for expansion. In a new area, a new business model may also be necessary. Patel says that with this, "you can be aggressive and attack the "ideal' opportunities you want early, as opposed to being reactive when things arise."

This will help your team to stay focused and gives plenty of room for comparison between existing ventures in the same sphere. An internal strategy and innate knowledge of your business's strengths and weaknesses is also crucial for an effective competitive analysis. Just as strengths and weaknesses may fluctuate over time, opportunities may also change at certain points.

"Keep in mind, the strategy and evaluation is not supposed to be static," Patel says. "It needs to be revisited as often as markets and teams change." Try reassessing these elements a few times each year to check in and stay aware of current or upcoming shifts.

Build your army.

Your team is a powerful asset, and each member has something important to offer during an expansion. Everyone needs to be onboard and working together for this exciting life event of your company. A great way to do this, Patel notes, is to address each person's thoughts and concerns "as it will create a dialogue and will definitely challenge the mission."

Related: Preparing Your Sales Team to Go Global

Difficult conversations or new information may surface in these dialogues, sometimes posing a challenge, but the end result will be worth any struggles that arise. "Being on the same page will create a more unified team, message and better preparation for when you're tested globally," Patal says. Overcoming current and future challenges will bring your team closer and collaborative efforts to avoid future road bumps will inevitably become easier.

Learn your risks.

Members of your team may resist buying into globalization, which is a part of the process, Patel reminds us. Globalization is risky, no matter what. Failure to take the right steps early on can cause a much faster collapse in international markets than what we'd see domestically. The demands that global markets place on teams will change, so your group will need to be well-equipped for what's around the corner. Being prepared for every scenario will help your company confidently tackle these challenges, so it's important to educate your team. Transparency is critical, Patel adds. "Another key to overcoming resistance is always being honest and realistic about outcomes and situations. At the end of the day, it is your credibility that people trust and sometimes helps with the unknown."

Stay consistent.

How would your business's messaging translate in another language? With an open mind, you may need to make slight modifications to suit a different culture. This might involve a different design to capture local architecture, an integration with local language or even incorporating local food products, Patel says.

The impact your company makes in a new place will depend on your execution and consistency. Physical updates or adapted language should not change your company's core values. You'll need to keep those values consistent across all territories, because it's "what consumers associate your brand with, hence why you need consistency and brand protection" for assimilation, Patel says.

This is challenging, but it's important to remember that on a global scale, we can relate to one another with ideas and feelings that transcend customs and language. "No matter what country, you want consumers to feel welcomed, comfortable and clearly understand the brand," Patel says.

Do your homework.

If you're on the fence about going global, Patel urges that executive leaders should show due diligence, "as the global marketplace is more sophisticated than you think." Understanding consumers also opens up potential for more opportunities. If your company seeks international consumers, "the leadership team must be willing to listen and adapt to local preferences. You cannot get stuck by saying, "This is the way we have always done things.'"

Related: Want to Work Internationally? Consider These Countries.

Even in the domestic marketplace, we are constantly being tested and thrown into trials and errors. This is a part of running a company, after all. Making mistakes can also give us a great opportunity to learn and apply what we know to new markets. This is why Patel advises that we stay entrepreneurial on both ends, and to "be in it for the long haul." By creating local resources that are dedicated to the global business, we improve our chances to reap the benefits of expansion.

Cynthia Johnson

Co-founder and CEO of Bell + Ivy, marketer, speaker and author

Cynthia Johnson is co-founder and CEO of Bell + Ivy. She is a marketer, speaker and author.

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