How to build a global team
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How to build a global team

Planning on expanding overseas? Then you need a good mix of central and localised knowledge. Here’s how to find it.

When growing your business abroad, it’s vitally important to understand the culture you’re launching into. To do this successfully, says George Yip, professor of marketing and strategy at Imperial College Business School, you need to take local advice or hire local employees.

“Finding out whether you need to adapt your business model, brand and marketing messages is essential,” he says. “There are some brands, such as IKEA, that succeed all over the world with almost no adaptation of any elements. In contrast, Walmart has stumbled almost everywhere outside the United States.

“IKEA sells a very narrow range of products, targeted at a narrow range of customers – people who are young and cosmopolitan. Local adaptation would actually be a negative.

“Walmart’s key appeal is its low prices, but it sells a wide range of goods to a wide range of customers. Therefore, the company has many more opportunities for its American culture to clash with a local foreign culture. You need people who can help you understand this in relation to your own business.”

Learning to let go

If you’re hiring the local talent, you need to overcome any micro-managing tendencies. “Once you’ve found the right people – use your networks, social media and organisations that want entrepreneurs and businesses to trade abroad – you need to support them and trust them,” says marketing consultant Marc Duke. “Make sure they’re clear about your expectations and give them the tools they need to succeed. It’s an investment in time and money, and the risk here is letting go and trusting someone else with your business. You can’t be in two places at once, but, if you like the idea of global expansion, it’s essential.”

For Vikas Shah, CEO of international textiles company Swiscot, creating friendships upon which a thriving business can be built is key. “Be curious,” he says. “Ask questions. If you know everything, why do you need your local people? They’ll be far more invested if you show you genuinely value their opinion and are willing to act on their advice, and that’s how friendships are formed. They’ll help you understand which aspects of your brand are most important to the local culture and how it can really resonate within it.”

A flexible approach

Adopting a flexible approach is important too, says Paul Walker, sales director of British shoe company Vivobarefoot. “Our international sales and channel managers all feed in to me, which means we share an over-arching vision but still have the autonomy to grow local markets appropriately in the markets we control,” he says. “However, where things are working well, as in the German and Czech markets, we won’t implement change just for the sake of it. They have a great business model so manage themselves externally, according to brand values that are communicated globally.”

A lower risk and more cost-effective way to create a global team is to build a franchise. “We grew our business by developing our franchise worldwide, which instantly gave us local insight,” says Sarra Bejaoui, client services and operations director of SmartPA, which offers administration and office support. “Franchising allows you to ensure your audiences fully understand your values and that your brand is aligned with the local market.”

More than translation

Finally, spend time (and money, if necessary) on finding someone who can really communicate the ethos of your business rather than just translate your mission statement from one language to another. “By just translating copy, you’re ignoring the all-important subtexts that create a feeling around a brand,” says Duke. “You still need to sound like you, but in a way that resonates with the local culture. You need someone who can adapt your message to local eyes and ears. Your edgy, indie writing style may work in Canada but take it to South Korea and it will fail. You need to find the local equivalent.”

Claire Lavelle Journalist and Content Creator
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