foreign market

The Challenges of Launching a Startup in a Foreign Market

Once upon a time, it was more than enough for a business to remain within the borders of its birthplace. However, the constantly changing business tides have lead to a need for even the smallest of businesses to consider international expansion. This venture presents various challenges depending on your niche, the target countries you wish to expand to, and your level of innovation to meet and overpower the local competitors in the new market.

From understanding the target culture, overcoming the language barriers, fine-tuning your approach based on their needs, and all the way to learning from your competitors – this is the environment in which your startup will need to not just stay above the surface, but preferably flourish.

How well you meet those challenges will mean the difference between creating a potential global empire out of your business, or crumbling back to your local endeavors. Let’s take a look at several key obstacles of spreading your wings beyond your current borders and a few suggestions as to how you can tackle them successfully.


Related: 5 Tips for Starting a Business Overseas

New government regulations

One of the primary issues startups need to tackle immediately upon deciding to build their business abroad is the legal intricacies of government rules and regulations that will dictate your business practices from day one. Registering your company, abiding by the key local laws and getting the right certificates and approvals can not only take time, but significant financial investments, and above all, patience to follow through.

Administrative issues alone can take a while to be resolved, while the sheer amount of red tape often discourages startups from ever stepping their foot onto a new market ground. For instance, western companies face a whole range of bureaucratic issues when they wish to join the Asian market, so as the simplest solution, they often decide on hiring local consultants and experts who can guide them through the process in order to avoid making mistakes.

Language and cultural subtleties

Misunderstandings are another common factor that can hinder your international progress, simply because your target countries might not be as proficient in English, or due to different perceptions of how your brand should be presented to the local people. 

But your brand’s language isn’t the only aspect of communication affected by different mindsets. What happens when you walk into a room full of potential partners and sponsors who think of negotiations as a non-competitive process, but more of an information-sharing one, as the Japanese do? Make sure to study your target culture in great detail in order to avoid offending your hosts by addressing them the wrong way, or by forcing upon them your own business philosophy.

A new online realm

Before deciding to move abroad, you should have already created a strong online presence that brings you a growing profit every day. But when you move to a different location, it takes so much more than adapting your web presence from a language perspective and introducing visuals that appeal to your new customer base. Understanding the local mindset will impact your optimization efforts to a great extent – from introducing new keywords to choosing different forms and styles of content, as well as the frequency of posting.

This is especially relevant in digitally-advanced environments such as Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, where a growing number of startups pop up, making it a very saturated market with versatile competition. Newcomers therefore often invest in search engine optimization in Hong Kong and other Asian markets to stay relevant and remain steadfast in their online ranking, as well as to attain better local recognition. Think: local link-building, creating content that builds authority and finding the right local influencers to support your brand.

Reliable partners

One of the most powerful ways to integrate your business into this new environment is with the help of local artisans, experts and the overall workforce. When you enter a new economy by supporting its growth (by, for example, hiring local talent and using local materials), you are much more likely to be accepted as a part of the community in which you’re hoping to thrive.

To that end, explore your options as far as local hiring and partnerships go. Every step of your business should be based on local practices without losing any of the brand consistency that brought you to that market in the first place. From finding local vendors and distributors to reaching out to print and digital sources to partner with, it’s pivotal to establish yourself as a viable member of the community and not an outsider.


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Rebuilding your brand in a new market

You already have the products or services, slogans, taglines, your entire brand reputation built brick by brick in your local region. Now, it’s time to take it apart and rebuild it once again, but this time with all the above mentioned complexities in mind. The main factor is how to retain the same brand essence and present the same core values while imbuing it with the nuances of the new target culture?

It’s important to keep your eyes and ears open from day one, to listen in on the local trends and preferences, and fine-tune your strategies on the go. Be prepared to make missteps. Regular feedback, target audience research and a flexible mindset are all you need to adapt your brand and gain the same authority and reputation you’ve created for yourself before. And of course, do your homework on how the local brands are doing it: some strategies may come in handy to get more visibility and better engagement rates long term.

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