Levent Yildizgoren’s book Good Business in any Language, How to Thrive in Global Markets offers an international expansion strategy framework for SMEs is looking to export.
A business should never depend on a single customer, you always should try to diversify your risk, so why would you depend on a single market place? Export can be a scary word though, and many SMEs believe that it’s only suitable for larger companies. This book aims to address that myth by offering a simple, five step model (LINGO) that takes you from checking out the potential of a region, through to being fully operational and looking for growth opportunities.
The ideas are presented through the localisation lens so there is a focus on what you need to learn about the culture and language of your target market in order to be successful there. It is presented in 3 parts: reasons for going global, basic preparation and points for consideration, the LINGO 5 step international expansion strategy framework.
Levent Yildizgoren was born in Turkey, but has spent the last 25 years running a highly successful, professional localisation service based in the UK. His decades of learning about the pitfalls and opportunities that the export market presents are shared in this book through his LINGO model. He has helped companies to do business in more than 100 languages! Additionally, he’s host of the Conquer New Markets podcast on which I was honoured to be a guest.
What inspired Levent to write this book?
Unfortunately many companies make basic and avoidable mistakes in their international expansion & for professionals such as Levent & myself, that’s really hard to watch. On the other hand there are a large number of companies who don’t look to expand internationally in the first place as it feels all too overwhelming because they don’t have any kind of international expansion strategy framework available.
In recent years in the UK many companies have struggled to cope with the after effects of Brexit which have also been compounded by the pandemic. That can give rise to the idea that being active internationally is just not worth the undoubted effort it entails. I’m a big believer in SMEs exporting.
Levent saw that companies need a solid foundation of the right research, the right preparation and then to actually implement a global strategy. It’s critical that once you’ve started you actually take continuing action in order to maintain your momentum. Additionally, if you want to push up the value of your company than exporting or expanding into international markets is one of the best ways to achieve that.
Think Global from Day 1
Mindset is one of the most critical building blocks for success in international markets. It’s fair to say that going global requires a global mindset so cultivating this from the start of your business will give you options at a later point in time. Thinking across borders can truly accelerate your growth.
Frequent mistakes in international expansion that should be avoided
- Expecting what worked at home to function equally well abroad
- Not planning from the top down
- Failing to do adequate market research
- Not following a structured framework for global growth
- Ignoring the buying behaviours of consumers in the target market
These topics have also been discussed in previous blog posts, such as this one.
The LINGO International expansion strategy framework
Companies relying on a single market are obviously more exposed to risk when unexplained expected changes happen (and of course changes will happen). Working in multiple markets forces companies to be more flexible and also leaves them better placed to contain any crises that may arise.
The five step LINGO model is designed to provide companies with a blueprint to help them avoid getting overwhelmed when they decide to go into international markets.
Learn the market
Navigate the market
Open for business
Learn the market
It’s essential to start out here and to really research which markets or segments are suitable for your products or services.
For example is there potential? Have you looked at all of the relevant market statistics which are available to establish whether the country you would like to target has a suitable economic structure?
Have you considered what legal or regulatory barriers there might be to do in business. For example in heavily regulated markets such as Russia or China these questions can make or break your expansion plans.
What aspects of the language, together with the customs and etiquette do you need to consider when entering a specific market?
How easy is it to do business here? And with this we mean not only from a regulatory perspective but you also have to remember questions such as which kind of complex paperwork might be necessary, how do you prove the rules of origin for the products you would like to export, or what are the tax questions which are relevant to your business?
It can be helpful to have a checklist for entry into new markets based on the specific criteria which are relevant for your company.
Having prepared all of the data above you can begin to create a top level strategic business plan.
At this stage you need to analyse the market that you’ve chosen in detail to establish exactly what you need to do in order to successfully penetrate that market.
That can include details such as how do the clients normally order (e.g. are boxes of six, 10 or 12 pieces usual), colour preferences for packaging or marketing materials as well as the details as to how you may delight your clients by exceeding their expectations.
The essential thing is not to make any assumptions but to back up everything with data and research and analysis.
Make sure you protect your IP.
In this phase of the preparation process you should also clarify any necessary modifications which are needed to be made to your product or your packaging.
Once all of this material is available then you have enough data to start preparing timelines and budgets for the implementation phase. You don’t want to be surprised later by unexpected costs.
Navigate the market
This is a kind of pre-implementation phase. By now it should be clear what you need to do and what you also want to do, so you can begin planning your operational details.
It’s at this stage of the business that you start to reach out to distribution partners or potential joint-venture partners for example. That means that in this phase of the detailed preparation country visits are often the ideal method to make progress, although of course at the moment it’s necessary to do many or all of the steps remotely if there are travel restrictions in place for the country which you are looking to export to, or for your own country when returning.
The main steps therefore in this phase would be:
- Meet those who are supporting your route to market (e.g. distributors, agent, warehouse providers, joint-venture partners, lawyers et cetera) new line set realistic targets for the first period of your expansion but accept at the same time that these are not cast in stone
2. Ensure that you really have the best product or service which is suitable for the market in question
3. Develop a localisation strategy for customer engagement that doesn’t just mean linguistically i.e. a translation but it also means your content, the visuals that you use, and your website. For example any pictures which are used on your packaging have to be checked for cultural suitability. Or if you’re looking to register local website domains then you need to ensure that these match local habits.
eg. the typical top-level domain in Germany is .de, whereas in the UK .co.uk would be more usual. Then there are markets such as Hong Kong where .com.hk is the typical website that a consumer would search for if they were looking for your brand. You have to think about these things in order to ensure that your product can be found in the market in question.
Thinking local whilst retaining a global mindset is a topic which most localisation companies are truly specialised in. You can also learn more about this on the recent episode of Sarah Rapp‘s How to be Global podcast about the glocal movement.
4. Check that the final packaging and product formulations are suitable and compliant with the market requirements. Most product recalls are actually due to packaging mistakes of one kind or another be that formulation, declaration, linguistic errors or cultural inappropriateness (a whopping 60% of FDA recalls!) . You don’t want that to be your brand!
In this phase, all of the detailed research and analysis preparation will begin to pay off as long as you implement your plan in a timely, structured way. Any delays at this stage will be costly in terms of € as well as potentially costing you the competitive advantage that you have. Building the right foundation at the beginning of your international expansion means that you are setting up your business for success for the years to come. Consequently you need to take care about the following points:
- Building your brand awareness including preparing corporate brand guidelines
- Starting ads and promotions tailored to the market in question
- Learning about the cultural differences and how you can incorporate these respectfully into your activities so that your product is positioned accordingly on the market
Levent has a 15 step checklist for this stage of the operation which you can see below, & find on his website ttcwetranslate.com
|1.||You shortlisted a market by completing Levent’s New Export Market Toolkit (available on his website)|
|2.||You completed a brand name check to make sure it’s suitable for the target market|
|3.||Your product is suitable for the market you’ve chosen|
|4.||You have adapted or checked your product for the new export market|
|5.||You have decided on your export strategy|
|6.||You have sales projections and budgets for the next 12 months|
|7.||You’re aware of the packaging & labelling requirements for your market|
|8.||You’ve acquired all necessary export documentation|
|9.||You checked if any documents need to be legalised|
|10.||You created a communication plan for customer engagement|
|11.||You have a localisation strategy for your website, marketing materials & product information|
|12.||You established contacts on the ground|
|13.||You are aware of the VAT & other tax related regulations in the export market|
|14.||You checked that your product isn’t restricted by quotas or tariffs|
|15.||You can receive payments in the local currency & know which payment methods are preferred|
Open for business
By now you already working on your new market and so progress needs to be monitored using suitable KPIs to ensure that you’re expanding as per your plan. It’s important to remember that the only concert in life is change so you need to always be working to improve your position and brand awareness in the market. In order to do this you need to take care of a couple of points:
You should have a production innovation mindset which will help you to keep your brand relevant. For example think about what happened to brands such as Kodak, Nokia or BlackBerry who failed to recognise the changes which were necessary in order to continue delighting their customers
Make sure that you future proof your business as far as possible by measuring and exceeding your customer expectations. You can do that by regularly reviewing and monitoring:
- Communications, both internal and external
- Your product or service market fit
- The team in the local market
- Market research insights (remember to never assume anything and base your decisions on data!)
- Finances especially the cash flow
Good business in any language as an international expansion strategy framework
International trade is something that man has effectively been doing for thousands of years. One of the most famous examples would be the silk road as a historic trade route between east and west although there are many other examples over the centuries.
Small businesses tend to be under represented in the exports of any country. My personal opinion is that with the right preparation and with a suitable blueprint then any small company should be working to expand internationally and to diversify their risks.
This book provides a structure not only of how to start out with exports but also how to thrive in global markets. It may be written from a mainly UK perspective, however the learnings are equally valid for SMEs worldwide.
Levent’s teachings are set out in a clearly accessible style with easy to digest information and actionable insights. It’s clear that taking a structured approach of
- Systematic analysis
- Dedicating resources to the project
- Having a clear strategy and planning
- Timely and determined implementation
Will work in most international situations.
This book doesn’t just include top line strategies but also goes into the detailed tactics and points which should be considered by any company looking to expand overseas. For me the book really resonated as it speaks to my main aim of taking away the fear of international expansion for the owners of small and medium companies.
In today’s globalised economy, expanding internationally is a necessity, not a luxury for SMEs so having a framework such as LINGO will help companies to adapt. Operating globally is a way to begin future proofing your business, even though the learning curve seems steep.
This book really will help business owners to put structures & processes in place that improve their localisation workflow, and monitor their investments, however far along the internationalisation journey they are.
You can listen to an interview with Levent on the International Business Podcast where he talks about his book & career here:
Thinking that working with a consultant would accelerate your international expansion?
If you’d like to learn more about working with me for support on your internationalisation projects or personal export knowledge, you can book a 30 minute international clarity call here.
If you haven’t already signed up for my free e-book about how to select which international market to enter next, you can do so here, or using the form below.
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You can find my interview on Levent’s podcast here:
If you are interested in localisation, you might also find this post interesting: