As a business we’ve expanded to international markets when we’ve seen opportunities for growth. At the moment, I am placing a real focus on our Canadian operation which we opened in 2014 and now has a $35m turnover. We’ve built a team there and made hires that will help us take it to the next level but it has been a real learning curve. The work culture and pace of the industry varies hugely to what we see in the UK so it has been crucial to consider company culture as well as the usual business cultural adaptations that need to be made. A geography we see a greater focus on cultural sensitivities is in our Thai operation. We now have three Thai branches and supply a temporary workforce of over 1,000 employees to their client base. It has not been without challenges though. Entering the market, we knew we were navigating through unchartered waters. From a regulatory perspective, the process was much more than adapting our model to comply with the country’s laws and regulations. Foreign businesses have considerable restrictions placed on them, namely (and what I imagine is a deal breaker for some) the business must have a Thai national as the majority shareholder. Unless, by happy coincidence, a business has a trusted party for this role, consultancies can be used. This can be costly and, of course, involves legally bestowing control to a third party. Once legals completed, we embarked upon the daunting task of getting our western business off the ground in an Asian country. In a period overloaded with hurdles, we learnt our most valuable lesson, and something which was absolutely fundamental to launching a successful branch in Asia. You need to align the company’s values with, and wholeheartedly embrace, the country’s culture. It was apparent that within Thai culture reputation and loyalty were going to be the key driving force behind any success. Offering high-paying jobs won’t attract more candidates. Instead, demonstrating that you are an ethical employer through application is the only means to earning a trusted reputation. Unemployment is incredibly low, which meant that attracting a workforce when you’re an unknown western company was difficult. The first 20 staff who engaged with us are the reason we have been able to expand in the region. It is their positive experience that our reputation is built upon and subsequently we are able to continue to attract an excellent workforce. There are key things that can make a difference. Do your research. Each country, and sometimes region, will have different rules and regulations that you will need to comply with. Ensure you understand them and that you incorporate them into your planning at an early stage as some can be very draconian and may impact on both your ability to do the business you want and the way that you want to do business. This will impact on the attractiveness of making the investment and establishing in new international markets. Work with the right advisors. In some international markets foreign investment and company ownership is prohibited or restricted. Knowing which is the best business vehicle for your expansion is a fundamental decision that you need to get right at the outset. You will also need to consider the correct structure from a tax perspective and whether you need any licences or permissions to operate as a recruitment business in the country and region. Be prepared for obtaining the correct permissions to take some time and for the information required to be quite detailed. If you or a member of your team will be working in the new business to get it off the ground, ensure you have the correct visas and permissions to work. Getting the right advice, from the right advisers at the outset can save time and money in the long run. Don’t assume what works in the UK will work in other international markets. There may be a very good reason why something that works in the UK and is an obvious improvement on their current working practices doesn’t work in the country you are expanding in to. We have started ventures in some countries where we have quickly decided it isn’t for us. Meanwhile, I will continue to clock up the air miles and continue to build what we have.
This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.
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