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6 Steps For Mastering Your International Expansion Strategy

International expansion strategy

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Key Takeaways

1. The first step in an international expansion is to set up a solid business case for overseas growth

2. The second step is considering the financial impact of expansion on the business

3. Third, check for any potential compliance risks of international expansion

4. Consider an international expansion partner

5. Refine your recruitment approach

6. Finally, consider the type of expansion you wish to deploy. 

Every ambitious enterprise will reach a stage in their growth journey when they consider international expansion. One survey found that 87% of U.S. firms consider international expansion to be necessary to secure long-term growth. But a profitable overseas expansion requires direction, and that is where an international strategy  an international expansion strategy  comes into play. Here we look at the key reasons why you should consider expanding your business globally, and set out six steps you should take when implementing your international expansion strategy.

What are the advantages of global expansion?

Serving your domestic market feels comfortable: You have prospered in that business environment, and likely know it very well. Expanding internationally, by comparison, feels risky — particularly where target countries have an unfamiliar linguistic and cultural environment. That said, there are compelling reasons why you need to start thinking about this. Potential advantages of growing internationally include:

  • No more ‘placing all your eggs in one basket’
  • International expansion is a form of ‘geographical arbitrage’; economic turbulence in one region can be offset by profitability somewhere else;
  • Slashing expenses
  • It is no secret that outsourcing operations to countries with lower costs for labor and materials can contribute significantly to the growth of the enterprise;
  • People talent
  • You may find that you need to expand into another country to get the people talent that your company needs;
  • Specific growth opportunities
  • For example, you may have identified that a certain country lacks the presence of a product manufactured by your company, and seek to fill a gap in the market.
Whatever your reason for expanding globally, there are several steps that you should take before making your decision: We look at each of these steps in turn.
  • Explore the business case for international expansion;
  • Evaluate the financial impact on the wider enterprise;
  • Consider any legal and compliance issues;
  • Collaborate with a global staffing partner; 
  • Refine your recruitment approach; and,
  • Implement your overall international expansion strategy. 

First step: Explore the business case for expansion

You may have a particular target market in mind. Or, you may be interested in global expansion, but not sure which particular location to target. In either case, you need to establish a robust business case for the expansion decision itself, and for the actual method that will be used for expansion.

In some cases of failed global expansion, it seems implausible that there was a robust business case in place before the expansion decision was made. Consider the case of Starbucks lackluster expansion into Australia. Starbucks opened its first stores into Australia in 2000, growing to 90 stores by 2008. By that point, it needed to close 90 percent of its stores.

The demise of Starbucks in Australia was not entirely surprising to locals who have had a robust espresso culture since the 1950s. The relatively higher-calorie, and more expensive, Starbucks drinks, simply did not appeal in the same way that they did to North American and Asian customers. Starbucks’ fortunes in Australia only began to improve, it seems, when its focus shifted to a more targeted tourist market already familiar with its products.

So, what do enterprises need to do to avoid this kind of situation? In forming the business case for global expansion into a particular locale, enterprises need to consider the following elements:

  • SWOT 
  • (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the proposed expansion. This includes evaluating any particular cultural differences in the target country that might be relevant to your business’s offerings;
  • Competitor analysis 
  • Look at your competitors in the target market, and evaluate their offerings against that of your own business;
  • Market research
  • Have market research commissioned from the target country itself, to ensure you have up-to-date information from close to the source. Understanding the markets you wish to expand into is a crucial component of global and intercultural fluency;
  • Marketing strategy
  • Develop your marketing strategy for the target country. Does your existing value proposition translate into the new market? How will you position yourself within the new market?

Second step: Consider the financial impact on your existing business

If all goes according to plan, global expansion will significantly benefit the enterprise as a whole. But at the same time, it can pose risks to the existing business that need to be mitigated. 

Businesses need to evaluate: 

  • Available funding
  • Any new operation is unlikely to be profitable in the short term. Will the expansion be financed through equity or debt, and is the business as a whole able to weather the burden?
  • Reputational effects of a failure or perceived failure
  • Consider the case of Burger King in New Zealand: The owner of the New Zealand Burger King franchise operator went into receivership in April 2020 after around 25 years of operation. It has been suggested that an expansion based on debt, combined with exceedingly slim profit margins, was its downfall. As soon as cashflow slowed even slightly, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the debt could not be serviced and the receivers took over. In light of the legal structures that Burger King uses to manage its international business, there will be little direct financial impact on the overall brand. However, the indirect hit to their overall reputation could be significant.

A key part of minimizing any negative impact of the expansion on the broader business will be ensuring that the right financial and legal arrangements are in place to support the expansion.

Third step: Assess possible legal and compliance issues

You are likely familiar with the legal and compliance environment for your business domestically. However, moving into another country requires you to be familiar with the rules as they apply in that new location. Matters to consider here include:

  • Whether it is advisable to set up a subsidiary in the new jurisdiction to carry on business, or use tripartite agreements to manage any staff in the new jurisdiction;
  • Whether any functions should use a Professional Employer Organization (‘PEO’). A PEO hires and administratively manages employees on behalf of your enterprise. We consider PEOs in greater detail below;
  • The tax implications of any expansion. If the enterprise has a fixed presence in the target country where it carries out its business, it is likely to be classed as a ‘permanent establishment’ in that country and to have tax obligations there. Tax returns, corporate income tax and other taxes may all be owed in the new jurisdiction;
  • Employment and health and safety obligations. In addition to tax, there are likely to be a range of other compliance obligations that arise from operating in another jurisdiction. You need to seek professional advice to ensure that you comply with these new obligations.

Fourth step: Collaborate with a strategic staffing partner

By the time you have made the expansion decision, it is likely that your enterprise has already built a significant product or service, and possesses a formidable reputation. It is important, where possible, to leverage this position and surpass your competitors by being ‘first to market’ in the chosen region. In order to do this, the enterprise needs to be able to deploy staff quickly and compliantly. 

This is where a global staffing partner comes in. Through Professional Employer Organization (PEO) or Employer of Record (EOR) solutions, you can onboard staff at speed, often within a matter of days.

For businesses that use independent contractors or freelancers, contractor management outsourcing (CMO) to an expansion partner can be an effective solution to ensure tax reporting obligations are met

Global staffing solutions mean reducing or eliminating administrative and compliance headaches, so you can focus on growing your actual business. If all goes to plan, you will also gain the ability to compete with larger businesses, at the same time as scaling your business in a quick and compliant manner.    

  • Compliant employment agreements
  • Many countries have a complex web of laws, rules and regulations that can be difficult for foreigners to understand. A good PEO will draft compliant contracts that incorporate best practices into them. They will also make appropriate statutory declarations with local authorities and register the employee at local labor bureaus to comply with local and national regulations in the country of expansion; .
  • Onboarding
  • The PEO should have a local team that will ensure that all immigration requirements, mandatory insurances, in-country tax registrations, and other key declarations are in place to ensure compliance;
  • Payroll processing
  • The PEO should set up a compliant international payroll system for your business and make proper calculations for individual income tax, insurance payments, social security contributions, and other allowances. It should also manage employee expenses and reimbursements, preferably without charging you extra every time you need to process an expense. A good PEO makes international payroll easy; your company should simply receive a monthly statement and invoice without all the additional hassles;

Using a PEO means your company can: 

  • Access new markets rapidly; 
  • Reduce risk by delegating employer responsibilities;  
  • Establish compliant back-office operations; 
  • Scale the business up or down in a flexible manner; 
  • Avoid or delay the expense of setting up a separate entity; 
  • Rely on the PEO’s HR experts, tax specialists, and legal specialists instead of having to pay third parties; 
  • Delegate time-consuming administrative functions to a local expert.

Fifth step: Refine your recruitment approach

The final step in working out your international expansion strategy is recruitment. By partnering with an international recruitment company, you gain access to a worldwide pool of candidates. It is through assessing both local candidates and foreign candidates that companies can find the most suitable candidates who will support growth in the new market.

Indeed, tapping into an international team can provide your company with significant advantages, including: 

  • Launching a new product series or service;
  • Helping you restructure your organization;
  • Leveraging your reputation to create new relationships with local partners.  

Your recruits can fill important roles within your company, such as:

  • Improved innovation output;
  • Increased productivity; 
  • Diverse educational and cultural backgrounds; 
  • Advanced language skills;
  • Enhanced local knowledge to help access new markets.

Any good recruitment provider will customize a recruitment project to match your company needs, enabling you to target candidates that have the right education, experience, and background to advance company goals and integrate well into your existing staff. 

Sixth step: Choose your international strategy 

Once you have explored the overall business case for expansion, and considered other relevant matters, such as the impact on your existing business, recruitment and possible partnerships, you can decide on your overall international strategy approach. But what is international strategy?  There are several different ways of approaching an international business expansion strategy. We consider the main approaches to international strategy below. 
  • Multidomestic international strategy
  • In this approach, a business will attempt to tailor its offerings to each and every country that it enters. This is particularly common in the fast food industry. For example, McDonalds has distinct offerings in most countries that it operates in: Sausages in curry ketchup in Germany (Currywurst), fried rice in Indonesia (Nasi Goreng) or burgers with beetroot and egg in New Zealand (Kiwiburger), for example.
  • Regionalized international strategy
  • In this approach, rather than tailoring the product or service to each specific country, the organization tailors their product or service to the region that they are entering. Some see this approach as a ‘middle way’ between the multidomestic international strategy which focuses on the local (above) and the global approach (below).
  • Global or globalized strategy
  • A globalized strategy is one that is directed by head office and applies a specific vision universally across the entire business. This is sometimes referred to as product or service standardization. While this approach is becoming less popular with globalization, one successful example could be IKEA. 
  • Ikea has succeeded in expanding internationally where many major retailer expansions have failed (e.g., Walmart, Tescos). And it has done so while largely adopting a ‘universal’ approach as part of its marketing: Everywhere in the world, the store aesthetic, products and even product names remain the same. 


At a certain point, expanding overseas is likely to make sense for any enterprise of a substantial size. But before doing so you need to consider:

  • Whether the business case for expansion into a particular country adds up;
  • Whether funding arrangements are in place to ensure that the new international arm of your business thrives;
  • Your compliance and legal obligations in the new country;
  • Strategic workforce planning with a global staffing/PEO partner;
  • Your recruitment approach; 
  • The overall shape of your international expansion strategy. 

Horizons offers international consulting services to ensure you don’t misstep with your international expansion. Our specialists can advise on how to set up new corporate entities, maintain compliance, and implement the outsourcing or staffing solution that is right for you.

Frequently asked questions

International expansion strategies are plans that companies have in place for growing their businesses overseas.

It depends on the nature of the international expansion. Where you intend trading in the new market, it may be necessary to set up a subsidiary of your international company. In other cases, a PEO solution will be a more cost-effective and efficient expansion solution.

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