How to build a business in foreign markets

Jim Godsal, Managing Director, Head Medical

Operating in foreign markets is integral to what we do.  We facilitate the international recruitment of UK doctors and we recruit overseas doctors to work here in the UK, as well as supporting UK doctors who are working abroad and want to come home.

International business is our business and we’ve had to be highly knowledgeable about how to do this effectively from day one.  What we have learned along the way can be useful for any business wanting to branch out internationally.

Working in foreign markets can be challenging due to the additional planning, management and financial considerations, but diligence and preparation can lead to success.  In addition, you can travel, see the world, and experience different cultures.


Plan ahead and map a market

As with many things in life, preparation is the key to success to ensure efforts and resources are focused on the right locations.  Target countries should be carefully considered to identify whether there is a demand or a gap in the market for a product or service.

It’s also important to think about any restrictions or barriers to a market.  An effective way of gauging this is exploring if there are competitors already operating there and if so, is there further business to exploit?  The existence of a competitor in the market doesn’t necessarily mean it should be avoided.  It means there is an existing route to market, and there may be room for more than one supplier.

If there are no competitors, that can be positive as it offers the advantage of being first to market.  However, it is wise to question the absence of competitors.  It could mean others have tried and failed or avoided the market for a reason.  Conducting research will provide a full and robust picture and decisions can be made based on sound intelligence.


Identify customers

Once a viable commercial market has been established, create a pipeline by identifying clients and customers.  In-country knowledge and insight is vital for this and the support of third party organisations may be required to facilitate introductions.  In some countries, to reach hospitals and clinics, we need to build relationships with governments and other agencies.


Local culture is important – learn it

Do not underestimate the value of knowledge of local customs and business culture.  It is critical to securing the confidence of an international customer.  Different countries take different approaches to business.

For example, in the Middle East, shake someone’s hand only if they offer first.  In addition, it is considered rude to refuse tea or coffee in a meeting.  In China, swapping business cards is something of a ritual and it’s important to participate.  These are small, everyday things.  But they could be the difference between a single meeting and a long-lasting business relationship.  Business support organisations, such as Scottish Development International and the Department of Trade and Industry can offer advice in this area.


Know the law

Clearly, different countries have different laws.  Our business is built on people, so we need to be experts in visas and the right to work.  We understand this process inside out for every market we operate in – it’s one of our priorities when going to a new market.

Selling a product in a foreign market is likely to present different legal and financial implications associated with regulations, licensing and standards, and currency exchange.  There are tax implications too, so it’s important to be aware of, and adhere to, additional tax obligations.

When doing business abroad, distance can be an issue as it can make it harder to build relationships and gain and maintain trust.  At the same time, being from overseas can offer competitive distinction.  When we call prospects abroad or walk into a meeting room in another continent and announce we’re from Scotland, it is an immediate ice-breaker.  Everyone wants to know what the weather is like!