1. Ask yourself why you want to expand to Europe.
Start by asking yourself why you want to expand abroad. Do you want to enter a new market, access a specific talent pool, get government funding, or something else? Opening up an office in a new location is an expensive and time-consuming endeavour, and you need to be really clear about your objective before you go ahead.
2. Revalidate your assumptions.
Even though your products or services have already proven successful on your home market, it is not a guarantee that they will work in Europe. Be open to go there and revalidate all your assumptions.
3. Don’t assume that you can sell a “one size fits all” solution.
Europe is diverse in terms of language, culture and ways of doing business. Depending on your sector, you might sometimes need to adapt your offering or approach from one country to another.
4. Spend as much times as you can in the new location.
Understanding the business context and building your local network requires time and effort. You need to spend considerable time in your new location. When you are overloaded with work in your home office, it can be tempting to go there only occasionally, but this makes the adaptation period much longer.
5. Hire the right local people with the right contacts.
It is important to hire people with knowledge of the European market and the right network of contacts to help your business expand. Unless you plan to open a local office in each of your target countries, you need staff that can manage business across Europe.
6. Understand HR aspects and different work cultures in Europe.
Labour law in Europe can differ quite a lot from that in other parts of the world, and work cultures also vary across the continent. Understanding the human resources dynamics, rules and regulations in the country you are expanding into will save you a lot of time and frustration down the line. Having a knowledgeable, dedicated local HR person can be very helpful.
7. Make sure that your company has a global mindset.
If your staff is only used to working with and selling to people from their own country, it can be very difficult to expand to Europe. You need to make sure that your company is truly committed to a global mindset, and hire staff with an international approach who are happy to interact with people from different countries, cultures and skill sets.
8. Be open to adapt your company culture and language.
In order to achieve that global mindset, you might need to change certain aspects of your company culture. Changing the official company language into English and giving your staff the opportunity to be exposed to international diversity can help break down the invisible barriers that sometimes exist between your native and international team members.
9. Avoid the “first customer lock-in”.
It can be tempting to locate your European office in the country where your first customers are, but that is not necessarily the best option. If you initially focus all your efforts to expand to Europe on one country only, you can lock yourself in in just that one market. If you remain more open-minded and choose a location suitable for serving the wider European market, you can easily have access to the whole of the EU.
10. Partner with local government.
The opportunity to partner with the local government can be a major success factor in some sectors. Being linked to the government in a smaller country, which is looking to invest in companies that are bringing technologies and talent, gives you legitimacy. Government officials in smaller markets are often very eager to help and can add a lot of value, especially early on as you are trying to ramp up and establish your office.
11. Go where you feel supported.
Having a partner who will help you when you have problems or questions is very valuable. Choose to go to a location where you feel welcome and supported.
12. Choose a place you love.
Choose a country that is not only good for your business, but where you feel truly at home. If you are eager to get to know the place and the culture you will want to spend more time there, and then it will be much easier to build your network, solve issues and get the business going.
13. Be determined.
All companies that expand to Europe – or elsewhere – will face problems during the establishment process, and it never goes as fast as you expect. A very important success factor is your determination. Keep in mind that you will always hear about the advantages of a new location, and once you are there, you will see the downsides. You need to follow the path you have chosen, and once you are established, new opportunities will unfold. If you persevere, your determination will pay off.
Based on interviews with Fedor Antonov (Anisoprint – Russia), Mark Edwards and Matias Shulz (ViewMind – Argentina), John Lusk (Spire – United States) and Toby Otsuka (Rakuten Europe – Japan) for Crossroads Magazine.