How to expand your business globally without losing your identity

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There have been international businesses since the 17th century. But truly global organisations as we now understand them only started to appear in the last 100 years. The removal of barriers to working across borders accelerated the trend, and now it’s sometimes assumed that the logical end goal of any business, in any sector, is global expansion.

There are enough stories of businesses going worldwide only to fail or fall short to remind us that expanding globally isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. It may not be the right solution for your business. The costs might outweigh the benefits, or you might lack the management or international experience necessary. Still, if expansion is your goal, you need a plan and the right attitude.

We saw WeMaintain as an international company from day one, not just because our offering is universal—all buildings with lifts need lift maintenance, wherever they happen to be—but because we had experience living in other countries. The founders had all lived elsewhere and these experiences were and still are important to us and our vision of the world. They taught us many things about ourselves and about going international, and we’ve used this as our playbook going forward.

One thing that’s important to remember is that you have to avoid sending the team from your first location to the next one. A common mistake we often see entrepreneurs making is sending a team member or a whole team to a new city just because that team has been successful in a different one. This seems to make perfect sense on the surface—you know they can do the job and you trust them. And you might even find operations at the start seem easy. But you always run the risk of finding that the local culture and the culture of your team don’t align, and if that happens it can cause real problems for your business.

Some of our London team, made up of industry professionals from all around the UK.

This is why it’s so important to hire a local team. You can be confident that a local team on the ground in a new location understands the culture and the market and will make decisions that are right for the context. When we launched in London, we made sure everyone in the UK team was from the UK. No one from the Paris team was sent to start operations when we launched. When you expand to other parts of the world, you have to remember that you’re now working in a culture that has evolved for thousands of years. You can’t bring your own culture and hope to compete with the local one.

But what must stay the same when you expand are your values. To succeed outside of your home country, you need to work around the enduring values and mission that got you to the point of expansion. Our three WeMaintain’s main values—CARE, GRIT and UNIQUENESS—served us well when we launched in Paris and in London, and together they function as a north star which keeps us strong and consistent as we move into new territories and cultures. They are also universal values that can be applied in any place in the world. They don’t compete with the local culture.

Of course, what works for one business may not work for others. If you choose to expand, you always have to interrogate your business, your offering and your team, and make sure that you have made the preparations necessary, and have the cultural infrastructure necessary, to make it a success. If you can do it, it’s enormously rewarding. You’ll be able to bring your product or service to new audiences in many new territories and learn from the surrounding culture.

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