Five ways to go global through collaboration
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Five ways to go global through collaboration

A strategic partnership can be hugely beneficial from a marketing perspective when your small business looks to expand overseas. Here’s how to buddy up.

The most successful partnerships – no matter the industry, sector or scale – are built on mutual benefit, says venture capitalist. It can be as simple, according to Shilen Patel, co-founder of corporate venturing and innovation consultancy Independents United, as “pledging knowledge, skills and experience in exchange for a percentage of future profits or shares in the business.”

So far, so simple, but they’re not without their limitations – one old adage is that business partnerships are like marriages: the partners have to understand each other’s expectations, be sensitive to changes of heart, and be prepared that some partnerships will end in divorce. On either side, delays and procrastination, inefficiencies and changing goals can engender a breakdown in trust that can place any partnership in jeopardy for the start. There are, however, some precautions you can take to maintain a sense of harmony and build a relationship that is profitable for both sides.

1. Get good people on the ground

When expanding overseas, a small business can benefit from a partnership that facilitates access to local expertise and the connections to help you on your way. This might even come in the shape of an individual, influential expert within, or allied to a partner firm. “Having someone who speaks the language, for example, is hugely important – it safeguards against essential information being lost in translation,” says Fiona Sutherland, co-founder of experiential marketing agency i2i Marketing. “It also means you’re aware of local customs that might otherwise trip you up – when setting up events in France, for example, it’s essential to get approval from the mayor of the town or city you’re working in, something a local business partner would know but you might not.”

It’s also advisable to structure negotiations clearly. Maintain the momentum of during the process, ensuring that both sides are focused on the objectives, and that other external concerns don’t derail it. Make sure all stakeholders whose buy-in or sign-off is required on the deal are kept up to date with progress, and that any related external issues, such as regulatory concerns, don’t delay or block it at the last moment.

2. Choose a partner who ‘gets’ you

“In my experience, the companies that want to do something with you or demonstrate they understand the value of your product or service are the ones to partner with,” says Armin Hierstetter, CEO of online voice-over casting agency Bodalgo. If you’re really having to sell yourself it might be prudent to seek out a partner more on your wavelength.

3. Be authentic

A carefully chosen overseas partner gives your business validation and credibility. “It can be hard to establish a foreign brand in many countries and we found Japan to be a particularly challenging territory when we set up our office in Tokyo,” says Matthew Swan, chief strategy officer at e-commerce platform Ve Interactive. “However, Ve’s Japanese team has developed intelligent relationships with well-known local partners, and this is one the most significant components of our commercial strategy. It also helped with speed to market: a well-planned and executed partnership can deliver client acquisition at a significantly faster rate.”

4. Trust and believe…

Ultimately, partnerships are about people. “You need to trust them and have confidence in their ability to understand your business and work in a way that will be mutually beneficial,” says Armin Hierstetter. Fiona Sutherland agrees. “Choose your partners based on as much evidence as you can gather that they have the same mind-set towards the business as you, and a similar work ethic,” she says. “Then trust them to deliver.” Remember too that the aim of the partnership is to build your own company and make it more competitive. Never lose sight of this during negotiations. Clarity on this point underlines the partnership’s objectives – and collaborations will often soon come to nothing if one side feels they are ceding control of their business.

5. …but don’t abdicate all responsibility

It never hurts to learn as much as you reasonably can about the region you’re launching into. Platforms such as Zeqr allow experts in a chosen field to create classes and deliver one-to-one tutorials via live video link (Zeqr itself is the result of entrepreneurs Daniel and Johan Hedlund being unable to find adequate local market knowledge while launching business interests abroad). And finally, always remember that a partnership works best when it’s just that – a partnership. That means being able to dedicate the requisite – and fair – time, budget and resources to making it happen. “Agree on how each party can help the other as opposed one sitting back and expecting the other to do all the leg work,” says Hierstetter. “Understand the targets you are hoping to jointly achieve, the benefits to each business and fully understand what the costs will be both in terms of money as well as time and effort.”

You can learn more about how to construct an array of new and exciting alliance and partnership strategies on our Marketing Alliances and Partnerships course. 

Claire Lavelle Journalist and Content Creator
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