Taking the international leap
While exporting is a difficult and lengthy process, team spirit and a long-term perspective can be a great help. Here is some advice for making the leap.
In a study on family businesses carried out by Audencia Group and OpinionWay published in 2014, 80% of business leaders surveyed stated they conducted no business activity abroad. When such activity does exist, it most commonly accounts for less than 10% of their operations—a finding that holds true for some "conventional" companies as well. However, in the current economic context, it is imperative to seek out growth where it exists: abroad, in emerging markets. Family businesses can certainly hold their own in this regard.
Admittedly, going international can truly revolutionise the way a family business operates. These businesses, accustomed to working on familiar ground—some of them for decades—using a consistent model with prudent management, may feel overwhelmed when transitioning to this growth solution.
Exporting first needs to be discussed internally, so that preparations can be made in advance. It cannot be done amateurishly, compromising the business's credibility from the onset. Several questions must be asked. Do the products meet a need on the targeted country's market? Do they have to be adapted? Will the company's logistics manage the transition? A project of such magnitude will have a greater chance of success if all staff are involved. Here again, the family business's efficient communication channels and ongoing dialogue give it an advantage.
Research and prospecting
It's best to start by collecting information on the target country. Numerous online tools can be used to conduct an effective analysis. And why not travel there, perhaps to attend a trade show? This would help better identify challenges and appreciate cultural differences. Once there, the company can begin prospecting: explore the market, let people know about your products, develop new contacts and so on. The family business model can help reassure potential partners, its longevity symbolising responsibility and reliability.
Numerous organisations, both public and private, are there to support entrepreneurs in their endeavours. Chambers of commerce, Ubifrance [a French agency for export promotion], COFACE and others can provide information and logistical support.
Finally, in order to incorporate the culture of internationalisation, family businesses will probably need to overcome their inclination toward secrecy.
Exporting generally requires relationships with financial and sales partners, and figures and information must be disclosed. In some cases, large-scale investment necessitates the opening up of capital and the involvement of third parties.
But these companies' long-term outlook, which inspires them to be patient, will prove an indispensable asset when it comes to exporting, given that returns on investment can take several years to materialise. They would also need to develop appropriate policies for recruitment, training and management.