For any small business owner who reads the business press, choosing Ireland as the launch pad for aglobal expansion strategy may seem counter-intuitive. A recent €67.5 billion European financial bailout, the collapse of Government, a recession now well into its fourth year and aggressive austerity measures, would all seem to suggest a location best avoided for the time being. Yet in many ways, now is the ideal time to establish a base in the Emerald Isle. Ireland’s success in cutting its budget deficit is leading to modest economic growth. Combined with favourable business terms such as a 12.5 per cent corporation tax, it is not surprising that global brands such as Google, Apple and Amazon are rushing to establish European footholds in the country.
US-based Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) recently announced plans to invest in Ireland’s technology industry, including life science, clean-technology, private-equity and venture capital businesses. Such investments, backed by a new Government that sees immense potential in high growth sectors such as technology and the life sciences,will inevitably help to stimulate and motivate the economy.They also help to build a strong platform for smaller firms keen to establish a base in Europe from which to expand internationally.
The first step in global domination
Many small business leaders dream of global domination for their company, product or service; but turning this dream into reality can be very difficult. The complexity and sheer hard work involved in expanding into new markets: overcoming issues such as location, skills and infrastructure requirements; the logistics of moving; and the legal, political, operational and cultural differences between markets, can dampen the spirits of even the most enthusiastic entrepreneur.
The challenge for smaller firms embarking on this journey is being able to work towards a number of different goalsat the same time. These invariably include a continued focus on customer service,research and development and product pipelinesin order to maintain standards and relationships, alongsidean aggressive foreign expansion plan. Such an approach demands strong management, meticulous organisation, well thought-out resource allocation, not to mention flexibility and agility.
Top tips for global expansion
So how does a small firm newly based in Ireland take the next stepand grow a successful global business? Here is some advicebased on our own experience of this journey:
1. Thoroughly research your proposed markets. As suggested above, legal, political, cultural, operational and competitive issues all come into play. Do you want to stay within the European Union or expand into developing markets? Is there proven or potential demand for your product or service? What are the opportunities and challenges? Is business support provided for international firms looking to enter the market? Is there funding available? What are the risks and are you willing or able to take them?
2. Decide on the kind of expansion best suited to your business.For example, through a growing network of partnerships, through acquisition or by organic growth.Each has advantages and disadvantages. For example, a technology firm could try to identify a similar firm with a gap in their product portfolio. Such a partnership offers clear mutual benefits and revenue potential with minimal product overlap and conflict.
3. Learn from the experience of others.There is professional help available that could help to reveal local nuances not easily noticed by a ‘foreign’, inevitably over-stretched business. Similarly, informal discussions with firms who have made the move will provide invaluable insight into the reality of doing business in the proposed markets.
4. Ensure the legal stuff is watertight.It seems obvious to say so, but international markets, particularly if you are looking beyond the Eurozone, have very different legal and regulatory environments. Areas such as employment and contract law, health and safety and data protection legislation could have a far reaching impact on your business operations, and you need to ensure you understand them before you open your doors.
We believe that Ireland has much to offer small firms looking to establish a base from which to expand into foreign markets. Small, innovative and entrepreneurial firms represent the future for Ireland and the country is committed to helping such firms become national and international success stories. Wherever your business journey ends, Ireland is a good place for it to start. It worked for us.