In 1998 I started a company with business partner, Adina Jacobs. Fast-forward twenty years, I never anticipated we’d grow from a two-person start-up to a company with offices across three continents and 50 employees.
Over the years, I’ve learnt valuable lessons about growing a business, including the challenges and rewards that come with building a company from the ground up and moving into new markets, like the United States. Today, I want to share lessons I’ve learnt about successful growth, for other small business owners looking to expand.
When we wanted to expand into the U.S. market, we utilised our relationships with distribution and sales representatives on the ground to help find the right people to partner with, based on their understanding of the industry. A key lesson from this experience is to prioritise networking with the right people, so that you can grow your understanding of the market. For tough markets like the U.S., knowing the right people will be your most valuable tool.
Many start-ups are so focused on the present, that it can be easy to forget to look at the bigger picture. To grow your presence in market, you must be prepared to travel often, from the outset. Visit as many trade shows relevant to your industry as you can, and be ready to visit multiple states (and even countries) as you grow your footprint and build relationships.
When recruiting a team overseas, it is essential to have face-to-face time with potential candidates and to on-board them in person. You can maintain the relationship over video during day-to-day operations, but if you’re relying on someone to help grow your business in a new country, my advice is to schedule time to communicate in-person. It’s the most effective way to build rapport in a way that a video conference call can’t.
In 2017, on the eve of our twentieth year in operation, we made a difficult business decision to re-brand. As we grew, we lost our voice and our message no longer resonated with people. Re-branding was an expensive process, and it was a big concern as we had just launched in new markets. But, we knew it was the right decision to help us grow in the long run, and it payed off. If there’s one key lesson I can offer, it’s be confident in your decision making and trust that you know what’s right for the growth of your business.
In business, particularly in the retail and technology sectors, innovation is key to staying relevant in market. We noticed that commerce was increasingly being conducted through mobile phones, and we saw the opportunity to develop an AR app that would enable customers to virtually try on our products. It has been instrumental to our growth, as we enable customers to interact with our product in new ways. Always look out for opportunities to innovate – in the long run it could be what sets you apart from competitors.
Ethan Nyholm, CEO and Co-founder, STM Goods