If you want to expand your business overseas, how does that work? That's something I've been looking into a lot recently. Supshot was a winner in the Young Entrepreneur's Initiative (YEi) this year. YEi is a program that was launched in 2005 by the Embassy of France in the United States, and RETIS is its parent organization. RETIS is the name of the French innovation network, a non-profit organization that promotes innovation in France. We were lucky enough to be selected as a regional prizewinner in the region of Toulon through TVT innovation. Winning means that we are provided training, expertise, counseling and all the help we would need to set up our business overseas. We were offered the opportunity to do a three-month accelerator program in which we would do everything necessary to set up an office in France. Also, included in winning is a one-week trip to the accelerator you were selected for, to take a look at everything and meet all the people involved, which is what I'm doing now. Naturally this experience has led me into understanding what it means, and entails starting your business abroad.
Expanding your business overseas is likely easier than you think, provided you think about the most important things when starting out.
Years ago, starting a business in a different country meant trying to take advantage of different issues with the market, and likely dealing with things like sailing across oceans. Now-a-days, it's much easier, less risky and very economically sound.
There are tons of opportunities in the emerging markets for entrepreneurs with a set of skills that is distinct from the local population. Here's a few key elements I've found helpful while YEi has been teaching me what it takes to open up a Supshot office in France.
1. Political Climate and Property Rights.
There are some countries that are known for not being good to their business owners, especially those businesses owned by foreigners. So do your research and stay away from those countries. Not all countries are like that though. You can see the index of international property rights to get some help with that.
2. Market Research.
Put a significant amount of time towards understanding the culture, because these barriers can go down to the deepest cultural levels, which can affect your business. Something as simple as a certain culture preferring leisurely meals, might mean that a fast food restaurant is more likely to fail there. The way you market and advertise will be very different across countries as well. If there's a way to conduct surveys before you invest a ton of money, that would be best, and this truly isn't something that should be overlooked.
3. Language Barriers.
If you're in a business that will need to constantly deal with locals, then this might be an issue, but if you're only dealing with foreigners, it might not be a problem. Maybe it means hiring someone bilingual until you have enough of a grasp on the language. It all depends, but it's something important to consider.
4. Getting Professional Advice.
While I've been here, TVT has been gracious enough to introduce me to professionals in each of the areas that are needed to set up a business here, so I've been learning from the best. Professional advice is very important for getting an understanding of the local environment, and introducing you to relevant contacts.
5. Relevant support organizations.
There are many organizations that are dedicated to bringing investment from overseas. Look into them because they are all worth approaching, and will be very helpful in your business endeavors.
6. Tax position.
This will depend a lot on where you are, but some places may or may not offer tax relief on losses for foreign exchange. Maybe you'll get taxed on gains you haven't recognized, or there might be restrictions on how much you can finance by loans rather than equity.
7. Take advice.
This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Even if you can write off a bad investment, this is much cheaper to do, and it could avoid having to abandon a project as a whole, so don't underestimate it.
Obviously starting a business in a different country isn't something that should be taken lightly, and there may be unexpected problems you come across while doing so. But the way the Internet has changed how business is done has really created new opportunities all over the world, and now is the time to take advantage of them. There's a rapidly developing market in many countries, and it doesn't take a genius to profit from them so take the jump.
Follow Azeem Khan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AZ33MKHAN