Alison Sellar: Do your homework before going global

Alison Sellar, chief executive of Activpayroll
Alison Sellar, chief executive of Activpayroll
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The prospect of conducting business on an international level can be extremely daunting for companies looking to expand.

Ever-changing legislation, language barriers and dealing with different time zones are just some of the complexities expanding businesses must take into consideration. Despite the share of challenges you may be faced with, going from domestic to global also brings with it a great deal of opportunities and reward.

Having first-hand experience of successful global expansion, it is clear that the transition from a small company to a major international business requires strategic focus, planning and – most of all – dedication. Here are some of the key factors to consider before making the move:

Ensure a customer base exists abroad: It may seem like an obvious consideration, but it is vital you research your overseas markets to ensure your products or services are required outwith the UK.

Adapt to new ways of working: What might work in the UK won’t necessarily work for you overseas. Different cultures have diverse ways of conducting business, you can’t expect them to change their ways to suit you. Understanding the cultural background and behaviours of people will help build your cultural intelligence and allow you to create a work ethic that suits that specific location.

Be prepared to work unsociable hours: It isn’t a 9am to 5pm job when you decide to go global; be prepared to get up early and go to bed late. Working across time zones can be gruelling, not only in terms of travelling, but for setting up meetings and making enquiries.

Hire the right leaders: Hiring regional directors you can trust is vital for your international operations to run smoothly. Although it isn’t essential, recruiting someone local or with an understanding of the country can be a great way to embrace local culture, especially if English is not the first language.

Be committed: A company is not something you can start and then walk away from easily, especially when you have multiple offices around the globe. You have to be dedicated and willing to put everything into making it as successful as possible.

Don’t neglect domestic business: Don’t lose sight of what’s happening at home; global expansion wouldn’t be possible without the customers at home. Maintain a good number of employees to focus on the home market, for example we have dedicated teams in our Aberdeen and Edinburgh offices that specifically deal with UK payroll services.

As an organisation, we’ve found that the larger our global reach has become, the more attractive we are to potential clients, and the more opportunities come our way.

• Alison Sellar is chief executive of Activpayroll, the payroll business she launched in 2001