- Find the local direct selling association. “The national DSA will have detailed knowledge of how the market works and can inform companies which legal regulations apply,” says Katarina Molin, executive director at Seldia, the European Direct Selling Association.
- Hire native speakers. Someone who knows the language from the inside will help you avoid faux pas, says 4Life Co-Founder Bianca Lisonbee, recalling that a pronunciation of an abbreviation the company once put on an international label was unintentionally off color. Molin agrees: “It’s a worthwhile investment to have a local manager who speaks the local language and who understands the key do’s and don’ts about the specific business culture,” she says. And even if you’re expanding to a market where consumers and potential distributors speak your language, “the tone and style of messaging can be very different in different countries,” Molin adds. So don’t just copy and paste website content.
- Do your homework. Study other companies’ successes and failures and learn from experts on the ground in the country you’re targeting—before you start doing any business there. “The temptation is to go ahead without checking boxes of the regulatory agencies,” for example, says 4Life Co-Founder David Lisonbee. “Many companies have jumped the gun… and then that creates negativity about the industry.”
- Expect complications—sometimes serious ones—and roll with them. “It doesn’t seem to matter what market we’re adding,” says Youngevity CEO Steve Wallach. “There’s always something going on—whether it’s a natural disaster or geopolitical turmoil. That goes with the territory of international expansion.”Your company may even be able to become part of the solution. When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, for example, 4Life leased a fleet of private planes and helicopters to transport relief supplies and more than 70,000 pounds of food to the country, where it had been in business since the early 2000s and already had distribution warehouses.
- Don’t mess it up. eBay is probably an exception to this rule, as it managed to find its footing in China after initially failing. Usually, you get one shot, direct selling executives say. “If you don’t do it right the first time, you probably won’t have another opportunity,” says Arbonne CEO Kay Zanotti, adding that it’s critical that top management is part of any global expansion. “I’ve learned the value of being personally involved and committed to our new market launches,” she says, “A firm commitment at the highest level not only sets an example, it’s essential to international success.”Also, be measured in your ambitions, adds Ambit Energy Co-Founder and CEO Jere Thompson. “So often, the inclination is to land grab,” he says. “But you go into too many markets at once and you don’t have the oversight that’s necessary, you suddenly no longer have dry powder to address challenges or your people get burnt out from doing too many things at once.” ‘recruit, recruit, recruit.’ ” However, those companies that place high priority on leading with product (retailing) and retention strategies are much better positioned to experience long-term sustainable growth.
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