Attention: doing business domestically is not the same as going abroad!

ImageDoing business domestically is not the same as going abroad, new challenges and issues will arise and they can easily break your business if not controlled. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that you fully understand what is at stake and which aspects will differ from your domestic business. By listing and analysing this new challenges and differences you will be protecting yourself from unexpected costs and risks that may lead you to losses rather than profits. Sorry for me being blunt, but along the times I have seen too many amazing products and businesses failing to succeed due to this kind of mistakes – bad forecast of costs and revenues; fail to master the documents and licenses needed, payment methods, and sales conditions used in international trade.Therefore, I am here today to introduce you a checklist of domains you should cover while doing your business case for your export operation.

In order to do it in a systematized way and saving time, I like to divide the checklist into four main areas and although there is no special order or preference, I prefer to start with the Management  and HR, followed by Marketing, Operations, and end with Finance – as you can see in the figure.

Management and HR you should assess everything impacting the way you manage and organise your business domestically: extra time to start-up the export operation, new organizational needs, new decision-making processes, and new activities that you will need to implement. IP rights along with special licenses are aspects underestimated that can easily put your business in a tough position. Human Resources are also critical, assessing the key personnel and special training needs for this new venture is therefore crucial. You should start asking if the actual team is enough in quantity, skills and competences, and what kind of training they, and you, will need.

Marketing, in this area you should assess everything related to the market and the differences of going to an international market. Exporting is highly challenging because you need to find new markets and customers, and therefore it is critical to have information and data. Assessing the kind of Market Intelligence you will need, in oder to comprehend how the market operates, the customers’ needs and habits, and the local way of doing business is critical. Along with that you will also need to understand if your Product needs to be changed in order to penetrate the market. The Trade Marketing – sales materials, promotion campaigns, point-of-sale merchandising, and other materials and strategies – will probably need to be customised for the market. Along with this it is also important to understand that the trade marketing strategies and tactics will also need to be tailor-made for the market and region, and that may bring new needs. Cultural distance is a highly critical variable for any export business, understanding the market you are exporting its cultural differences it is crucial. I can tell you that this is one of the most underestimated aspects by the companies that can easily spoil the whole operation.

The third block of your export challenges checklist is the Operations side, in here I put everything related to executing on the field the business plan. Meaning, managing your production capacity and other special product customizations in time and linking it to an international supply chain that efficiently delivers your goods to the market, designing a distribution plan (distributors, reps, agents,etc) that meets your demands, preparing and handling special documentation and other needed certifications and licenses in order to be able to export and sometimes import your products into the new markets (depending on your distribution choice), and the needs for a tight project management and control of all the different variables involved when exporting. By project management I mean everything going from the moment you sell to the moment you deliver and collect the payment. A lot of small firms underestimate the importance of handling the part of collecting and sometimes delivering correctly what means not get paid in time or at all. As you know with the Incoterms is easier to be on the same page with your buyer concerning sales and payment conditions, and therefore is important to choose the correct Incoterm to use in the contract along with the correct execution otherwise it does not work.

The Financial aspects are the last but not the least export challenges in your checklist. Exporting means extra costs (trade marketing new needs, credit costs, transport costs, etc) different credit and payment methods, and extra risks (exchange rate, payment methods, default of payment, scams, etc). Thus, It is important that you understand all the changes so that you can have a competitive and profitable operation.

Be aware and prepared, and you will be fine. Good Luck!

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Leading is About Knowing People, And Never Forgetting The Goal!

After writing Do You Want To Be a Leader?, I am coming back to the Leadership topic! I believe that only with a strong Leadership we can unlock [people] talent and creativity to develop the great solutions we need to face the challenges ahead. So, if Leadership is so important, why insisting in the same old and irrelevant question of What is your Leadership style? Instead one should try to find a good answer for, How do you lead your teams?, the real question that deals with behaviors and acts, rather than trying to find a box to put people in. Asking for a style is nothing more nor nothing less then asking for a label, reducing all the Leadership topic to boxes and labels. Like I have mentioned before, in The Bad Habit of Labeling Everything!, I do not like labels! Labels harm creativity, inhibit innovation, and reduces leadership to a style. Instead of labeling Leadership, I would rather learn more about the why a Leader behaves and acts the way she does. The difference between a good and a bad leader, it’s for me related to the way a Leader reads reality, learns about it, and acts accordingly to meet her goals, without defrauding her company’s vision. What kind of information does she take into account to act? How does she adapt? Does she faces the day-to-day situations, and the unusual situations same way? All these question are related to the decision-process, and their answers will all depend on the situation at-hand. Therefore, I believe that each situation needs a strong assessment before going on deciding how to handle it! Like in a chess game when the players read the chessboard before going on defining strategies and tactics, and never forgetting the end goal: reaching check mate. Likewise, a Leader should be able to read the situation at-hand in order to choose the best approach possible also without forgetting her ultimate goal.

So, what are the key variables to be assessed?  I would like to propose 3 main group of variables: team’s maturity (degree of readiness, experience and knowledge), nature of the situation (form a day-to-day routine, to a brand new challenge), and timeline (from a short, to a long deadline)! By learning all this info about her team, a Leader is not only readier to face challenges, but also better able to design a career advancement strategy, and keep a higher level of motivation. The situation and timeline are aspects to be accessed in the moment, and can change in some way the team’s readiness, by leveraging or not on their knowledge and experience. Therefore, knowing one’s team is the halfway through to be a good Leader, the other part (no less important and crucial) is about having the ability of learning the situation and timeline correctly, design a plan, and be able to execute it – by acting and adapting! I would like to highlight the importance of knowing the team well when looking for those among the team who can, regarding experience and knowledge on that specific situation, help designing and executing the plan.

Regarding these aspects, and acting accordingly to the maturity of the team, the Leader’s behavior changes, and evolves*, so if the team’s maturity increases the leader’s behavior should evolve from a) Directing, Guiding; to b) Coaching, Explaining; to c) Supportive, Collaborating; to d) Delegating, Observing. The decision making process evolves also along the process, and from being the leader’s full responsibility in phase a, to being the team member’s full responsibility in phase d. Along this process, the leader encourages and empowers the team members to make decisions, more specifically by coaching in phase b and empowering in phase c.

As one can see it is important to know the team in order to decide which behavior or mix of behaviors to adopt, it is also important to say that there is no fixed style when leading and that will always depend upon team’s maturity, situation and time frame. However, it is important that each leader follows is own way! Leadership is all about people, knowing yourself first, your company and its goals second, and your people last, but never the least. In order to be a Leader and achieve your goals with a  strong and motivated team, one needs to invest in guidance, have the best coaching and training programs available, know when to delegate and support, know their potential and limitations, but never forgetting your mission and goals.

Have your own vision regarding your team and talent management, a vision that enables you to achieve great things and do amazing stuff! Be a Leader! 😉

*Inspired by the “Situational Leadership Model” by Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson – 1996.

Vision, Strategy and Implementation! How About People?

Along my life I have seen a lot of awkward things! But the worst was to see a company with no strategy and a leader without vision! How can a business survive if it has no vision? A simple dream to be accomplished or a line in the horizon to be pursuit ? How can one survive without goals and objectives? Well, unfortunately a lot of companies do the same mistake over and over! First, they don’t have a vision; Second, they don’t have a strategy because they don’t have a vision; And, third, they hire a manager to manage a company with no vision nor strategy. what kind of people can they hire? A no-leader for sure, because no leader would accept a challenge when the company has no vision nor strategy. The only case where I can see a leader accepting this challenging is the case where she has a mandate to change it! Develop a vision and design a strategy! Although you have a vision and a strategy, you are still missing the last part of it, a plan to implement it! Again, I have seen a lot of companies ruining their positioning due to a wrong implementation plan! Easily one can say that to have the right start up base you need a vision, a strategy and an implementation plan! Obviously that you can have all of this and still fail, so another key ingredient is people! Talented people, high potential people, committed people, motivated people, creative people, innovative people…Well, I think you understood my viewpoint here. I know that the idea of having a triangle is much more sexy than a square though, here we are dealing with a square! Vision, Strategy, Implementation & People: a square that gives a company a truly opportunity to succeed! Nevertheless, don’t forget that people must be led and motivated, and that not only the vision, strategy and implementation are important!

An amazing Japanese old saying says: “Vision without Action is a daydream, but Action without Vision is a nightmare” and I would like to add: Vision and Action without people are Impossible! People Management is key to win the challenges ahead!

What drives you? [Video] Daniel Pink Animated Talk!

Have you ever thought about what really motivates people? Well, I bet you are thinking about rewards, cash and prizes rewards. Do you believe that what motivated people 50 years ago is still motivating people today? What has changed in the last 50 years? A lot! We live in totally different Age, an Age where information, technology, creativity, collaboration, purpose… are key! So, I will ask you again! What in your opinion motivates people?

Lessons learned: Autonomy, Mastery, Challenge and Purpose are important drivers on this XXIst Century!

What kind of challenges do people and institutions face regarding Motivation and Drive on this 21st Century? A last question & food for thought! Share your ideas with us!

Thanks @DanielPink & @theRSAorg Animation for animate amazing TEDTalks!