Overseas expansion is a priority for many small and midsize businesses. But complicated rules and cultural differences can make global markets difficult to navigate, said Elizabeth Finn Payne, an adviser at High Street Partners in Boston.
Payne helps companies manage tax implications, streamline operations, hire staff, and gain an understanding of foreign cultures. “Some countries are more challenging than others to enter,” said Payne, who works with customers in more than 25 nations.
Can you give an example of a client that has done an effective job of expanding overseas?
Passkey, a hotel booking technology for meetings and events, recently opened offices in Hong Kong, expanded operations in Singapore, and is planning an expansion of its United Kingdom facility. Instead of just plunging right in, they figured out the best business structure for their needs, reviewed the timetable for setup, and figured out cost and hiring considerations.
What aspect of international expansion can be most confounding?
Employment law can be bewildering. Most US companies can hire and fire at will, but this usually isn’t the case internationally. When hiring people in France, for example, there’s a collective bargaining agreement that has to be adhered to for each individual industry. This can regulate how many hours a worker puts in, holiday pay, and bonus pay, and more.
What countries do American executives feel most comfortable expanding into?
While developing economies like Asia and Africa are hot spots, the smoothest places to do business outside of North America are the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia. The UK tends to be the entry to expansion elsewhere. It has a couple of things in its favor, primarily the English language. From a time zone perspective, it’s only five hours ahead.
Are most companies bringing staff to foreign countries, hiring local staff, or a combination of the two?
The expatriate world is very complex and pricey. A lot of companies are moving away from that and looking to hire locally. It’s an interesting shift.
What drew you to international business?
Perhaps it was traipsing around Paris when I was 14 during a summer abroad. I knew then that I enjoyed learning about different people and experiencing new cultures, language, and food.
What are some of the bizarre local laws you encountered when helping a company expand overseas?
In the Philippines there’s a law that requires employers to provide each worker with a sack of rice each month.
As you deal with other countries, is there a favorite app or website you use?
Since I’m often calling other countries, one of my favorites is TimeandDate.com. It has a world clock which shows the current time in cities. I called Switzerland yesterday, and the person said, “I can do a conference call at 4:30.” I quickly converted it. It was 10:30 a.m. here, so I knew that I could schedule it on my end.
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org