Starting a business? Make sure it’s born global…

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In 2017, being “born global” is a must for fledgling businesses … and doing so is much easier than many imagine, argues Suranga Herath, pictured, CEO of English Tea Shop – a business which was solely global for the first three years of its existence. 

Conventional wisdom says that a business should get its domestic ducks in a row, before venturing overseas. But in the digital age, a new generation of businesses is making a strong case for nearly all new businesses to be “born global”, that is, have an immediate focus on the international stage.

The arguments for exporting are well known: it can increase the prestige of your brand and can allow you to tap into unexploited economies[1]. My argument is therefore: with all the benefits that going global offers…why wait…why not be born global?

Being born global is easier than you think 

Being born global may seem radical, but can be much, much simpler than many think. For me, being born global isn’t necessarily about having offices and employees overseas, or prioritising the international side of things – although it can be. In its purest sense, being born global is a mindset where businesses seek international opportunities from the very beginning.

Cutting to the chase – how being born global accelerates growth  

The benefits of being born global can be profound – take my business English Tea Shop as an example. Launching in 2010, we set out creating a brand we knew would resonate with global audiences. Indeed, the UK didn’t become a focus for us until 2012. While domestic sales now account for around a third of our UK business, an immediate international outlook allowed us to grow very rapidly. We’re now in 50 markets around the world. In short, there’s no way we would have achieved this kind of scale if we’d had a domestic-first approach.

Should your business be born global? 

I believe almost any business could in some way be born global. But there are a number of factors to consider when asking whether it’s right for your business. Language and cultural barriers, logistics, market knowledge, manpower are all very valid reasons why businesses refrain from going global. But to my mind, if managed practically, the potential challenges are completely outweighed by the potential gains.

This is particularly true when you consider the direction the world is moving in – that is, by and large, closer together. In particular, developing markets are where businesses can find the fastest growth and if you’re not international, you’re not in the game.

With that in mind, and from my own experience here are five insights to help a fledgling business be born global:

  1. However big or small, include an international element in your business plan. This will focus your mind on the opportunities that lie overseas. It may be the core of your strategy, or just something you’d like to explore in the future, but make sure it’s there.
  2. Start – but don’t stick – with what you know. Maybe you’ve spotted a niche in a certain market, maybe you speak a language, maybe you have relatives living overseas. In some cases it may be appropriate to start your international journey there. However, keep an open mind – there’s a whole world of opportunity out there.
  3. Find the right balance. The optimum split between domestic and international differs from business to business. English Tea Shop started off being 100% international but we’ve now dialled it back to being about 70/30. We’re entering new markets all the time and we think it’s vital to maintain a sense of agility.
  4. Use external resources. Logistics providers, UKTI, small business media – there’s a whole wealth of information out there to support and guide you from the very beginning. If there are any areas of expertise or practical knowledge you feel you’re lacking, you can be sure help is there for those who ask for it.
  5. Be ready for the rush. If all goes to plan, your business will grow rapidly – and for this reason you should make sure you have a solid infrastructure in place if things suddenly explode.

[1] Huffington Post, 2017