Start and Grow a Business Abroad: Advice From 2 Entrepreneurs Who’ve Done it Successfully

It’s one thing to start a business, but taking that business and starting an iteration of it abroad? That’s an entirely different beast.

Here, James Kinsella and Adam Carnell share their journey from a dorm room in the U.K. to a bustling transatlantic printing business.

Spot the difference

Back in 2009, we were ignoring our college finals and focusing on building out our business idea. It really felt like our idea, too. We were convinced we were about to change the market for the better.

We were promoting events at nightclubs at the time, and having a really hard time getting things printed. The process was so convoluted and exclusive – you needed a ton of knowledge about printing to get your design down “on paper” in the way you’d imagined it.

There were so many steps, too. If you wanted flyers or posters printing, you’d have to start by getting in touch with a designer and going through the often lengthy process of agreeing on proofs via email. You’d then have to liaise with local printers to actually get the items printed, and this would include a bunch of other confusing steps that took too much time.

We were constantly asking each other “Does it really need to be this hard?” And that’s basically where our idea began. We thought that we could simplify the process, get rid of the jargon and incorporate a simple online design platform.

It sounds like an oversimplification, but that’s really how it went.

We couldn’t believe something like this didn’t exist already, so we set out to solve the problem ourselves.

Ten years later, I think we’re achieving that mission with every order we fulfill.

Related: 5 Tips for Starting a Business Overseas

Coming to America

It was a really big step for us to take our business over here to the U.S. We’d been engaged abroad in various forms for a long time, and it seemed a natural next step to bring part of our business over the Atlantic.

The U.S. has an incredible number of small businesses, helmed by entrepreneurs who are passionate about promoting their business and eager to grow. That makes the business printing market a booming one, but we were seeing the same trends that led us to start instantprint in the first place. So, we thought it logical to try and simplify the market all over again.

We had a lot to learn, and we’re still on a journey that includes everyday improvement. Paper sizes are different here, and we had to relearn a lot of the jargon we were ultimately trying to eradicate. Not only that, but communications are sometimes deceptively similar, and this can lead you into a false sense of security – the U.S. really notices when we lapse into British grammar and spelling, for example!

Attention to detail is key to U.S. business owners, and this applies to everything from marketing messaging to the card stock we use for some of our products. It’s this dedication to getting things perfect that really enthuses us about expanding our business to the U.S.

Our dedicated U.S. customer service team operates during the U.S. working day as you’d expect, but it’s actually located in the U.K. One thing we’ve heard time and time again is how much our customers love to hear the British accent! We’ve also noticed how important it is to our customers to have a dedicated team on hand at any time – whether it’s a question about their order, artwork or any other aspect, it goes a long way to be able to pick up the phone and get fast support.

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Pay it forward

We stand by the mantra that nothing drives your business forward like listening to your customers.

Had we not taken the time to seek feedback from our customers, we’d still be focusing on an element of the print market that simply wasn’t as important. We sought feedback about all angles and about each element of our offering, and this went a long way into shaping what we do and how we do it.

That said, it’s important to retain some perspective on what it is you think is right, and who you take advice from. It’s a hard skill to learn, but through trial and error, you learn to use your judgment when taking advice from others, including your customers. There will always be people who tell you not to do something, not to take a risk – and we’d never get anything done or grow our business if all we worried about were risks. The key is to get as much information as you can and let that inform your decision.

We also think it’s really important to maintain perspective. It’d be unusual if you weren’t putting lots of time into your startup, but you need to keep time for yourself, your family and your friends. This shouldn’t be seen as self-indulgent, but rather as a way of keeping your sanity! After all, there’s no better support network or fanbase than family and friends. So, make time to use your weekend where possible. Say yes to that catch-up. It’ll do you the world of good, and you’ll return to the task refreshed.

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