When should a company go international – that’s the million dollar question.

Some companies expand overseas too soon while others, with great potential, refuse to venture outside of their home patch.

When it comes to international expansion, I’ve made every mistake in the book so here’s your opportunity to learn from my blunders and not repeat them.

Beattie Communications is more than three decades old but I first decided to open up in Australia when we reached the ripe old age of seven.

One of our bright young things was emigrating with his Aussie-born bride and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to open in Melbourne.

What a mistaka-to-maka!  He was a brilliant PR operator but he had no business contacts whatsoever in Australia. What was worse, no one had ever heard of our agency.

It was an uphill battle from the start and although we won a couple of impressive clients, we had to cut our losses after 18 months.

Do Your Homework

If you’re looking to expand abroad – look before you leap. That’s what I didn’t do when I opened in Oz. I didn’t research the market, I had no one with local knowledge and my pockets weren’t deep enough to keep the business going for a long loss-making period.

Nonetheless, I refused to give up and a few years later our biggest client in the UK handed us their business in Ireland.

It was the perfect opportunity to expand outside of the UK as the office was guaranteed to be profitable from day one. So I recruited local communications talent in Dublin to service the Hewlett-Packard PR account.

Everything in the garden was rosy until HP pulled the rug from under us when CEO Carley Fiorina took the crazy decision to appoint a global agency to handle all of the company’s PR.

Appointing a global agency will cut your costs but the results a global agency can produce will never match what best in country agencies can generate.

In an instant we lost millions of pounds of business in the UK and Ireland and I faced the unpleasant task of making 26 people redundant on both sides of the Irish Sea.

That’s the danger of over-reliance on a single customer. If a new CEO arrives on the scene, you can be thrown out with the bathwater even if, like us, you are doing an outstanding job.

Mergers Work

You’ll be delighted to hear that our third attempt to go international is working like a dream. Instead of doing everything ourselves, we broke into the Canadian market by merging Beattie with travel PR specialist Tartan to form Beattie Tartan.

We now have a booming integrated communications agency servicing travel, health, retail and education clients across the second largest country in the world.

The introduction to my partner, the wonderful Deirdre Campbell was brokered by Kevin Roberts, the former chairman and CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi.

I knew Deirdre was the perfect partner as soon as we met over a cup of coffee at JFK Airport in America.

There was thunder and lightning outside and fireworks inside as we discussed a potential merger.

A few weeks later the deal was done and Beattie Tartan is, as I said, going from strength-to-strength.

Our first year will conclude at the end of this month and everything is looking great.

We will end year one with four offices, no external debt and we’ll either break even or perhaps make a small profit.

Looking To The Future

We’re already laying the groundwork for year two. Our plans include, further expanding our footprint beyond Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, doubling our turnover and increasing our talent pool.

Looking further ahead, we’ll open in the US but only when we’ve planted offices across Canada and have the people, money and opportunity to ensure our success.  

Here’s what we did right – we found the perfect partner in Deidre and her talented team, we brought marketing and management expertise into Canada that she lacked while Tartan brought us great business contacts and insider knowledge of the country.

Follow my recipe for success if you want to successfully grow your brand overseas or drop me an email if you would like help and advice on taking your business international.