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Strangers in a Foreign Land: How to Enter New Markets

Looking to do more business, but anxious about braving the great unknown? Want to find clients in a new country but unsure where to start? An expanding company brings its own share of challenges, but with a bit of creativity you will be forging strong partnerships in no time!

This is something we learned when we took Unity Group to the US. We hope these 10 simple tips will help your future ventures into new markets be just as successful!

But first, a little about us. For those that don’t know, Unity Group is expanding internationally. For a long time, this growth has either been driven by companies approaching us directly or through recommendations from our existing clients. While this is certainly helpful – we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t – we know there is much more business for us out there.

This is why we organized a trip to the US. In just over a week, we were able to hold over 50 meetings, establish around 100 new business contacts and even managed to start discussions about a couple potential projects. It’s safe to say it was a great success, so here are the 10 biggest things we learned throughout the journey.

Start preparing well in advance

We know what you’re thinking – “thank you, Captain Obvious!” – but we really can’t stress this first point enough. Don’t plan a couple of weeks before you leave; start your preparations 6-8 weeks in advance.

Planning outreach activities takes time and, what’s more, people can be busy, or go on holiday, get sick or even simply forget to respond. Often, you’ll have to jump through a few hoops to get to the right person, which takes both time and effort.

On the other hand, starting too early also has its downsides, as people can forget who you are. We found 6-8 weeks to be the ideal time-frame.

Fully leverage your existing connections

Nothing helps connect you better than a personal recommendation (which as we said, is how Unity Group’s initial success was born) but you won’t find any such opportunities if you don’t ask first.

Leave no stone unturned – look through your network, ask employees, consider local business associations and reach out to your strategic partners. Be creative. You never know who has the email address or the phone number that will give you the largest contract in history.


Have a local to assist you

Nobody can help you get around better than a local. It’s not just about the language; he or she will be able to recommend good (and affordable!) restaurants, understand the local transport and even navigate cultural nuances for you. That last point is important, as you never want to end up embarrassing yourself due to a minor social misunderstanding!

If you have a contact willing to help you, that’s fantastic but if not, don’t be afraid to look for one. Use whatever connections you have to find someone willing to lend you their knowledge. Their tips will be invaluable and, if something unexpected pops up, they’ll be best equipped to seamlessly handle it.

Split up as much as possible

We all know you should never split the party but… if you’re going as a team, don’t stay in one group! You are in a foreign country, you’ve paid for the flights and accommodation, spent a lot of time planning and expended a lot of effort on outreach campaigns. You need to make the most of your time there!

At the end of the day, you want the best ROI for your efforts so, if there are two or more of you, go to different meetings. More meetings, events or attendances means more opportunities and a better chance of success. It’s that simple.

Make sure people remember you

Leaving a good lasting impression is essential and there are many ways to do this. We all know a small gift is always appreciated. Bringing up something special about your counterparty is another idea. Your goal is to build rapport with your potential new partners and it’s worth doing a little bit of research in advance.

People remember through emotions, not content. Find a way to make a personal connection and you will stay in their mind long after you leave.

Get a co-working office subscription

Speaking of good impressions… you’re not taking the office with you, but you still want to meet people in professional surroundings, right? Thankfully, there’s a solution for that.

In the last couple of decades, companies like WeWork and Spaces have changed how we think about office space. If you’re in town for even just a day, these companies enable you to book a desk – or even an entire meeting room – via their app or website. In just a few minutes, you have a space reserved for you at a fancy office at an attractive location. It’s that easy – so just do it!


Learn the art of networking at big trade events

This one can be hard for many people. The more people are around us, the noisier it can be, the less time you have with each person and, ultimately, the more difficult it is to stand out. Making a connection is a real challenge at big events.

We haven’t found the perfect answer yet but we’ve learned that you just have to go for it and be as creative as possible. Large gatherings are not the place for subtleties or shrinking violets.

Join people at tables and make any immediate connection you can, whether it’s a name, company, dress or even an accent. You just need to get the initial conversation going; icebreakers are always the hardest part.

It’s also important to know when to move on. Don’t spend hours talking to one lonely person you found in the corner, as this is unlikely to produce many business opportunities. While it’s important to learn how to say hello, it’s equally important to learn how to excuse yourself, say goodbye and mingle elsewhere. Just make sure you get the contact details before you leave!

Don’t go to the most obvious places

When you think about the US, what locations immediately spring to mind for you? You’re most likely thinking of famous places such as New York, San Francisco or L.A. Yes, there is certainly a lot going on there after all, but this isn’t always a good thing.

After all, with plenty of opportunities comes stiff competition as well. This generates a lot of noise through which many of your potential contacts have become immune to, no matter how creative the outreach might be.

Sometimes it’s better to start with less crowded (but still viable – do your homework!) places. In our experience, if you’re considering the US, why not visit Austin, TX, or Charlotte, NC? Both have a lot of business potential, even if they don’t spring to mind straight away.

Be focused (with a little creativity!)

When you are exploring a new market, there is always the temptation to talk to anyone willing to meet you.

While this isn’t necessarily a bad idea – you never know which connections could lead to a successful partnership – you need to be careful. Your time is limited and this is not a social trip. Make sure each meeting has a clear purpose and there is a link to your business and your core offer.

Of course, a little creativity doesn’t hurt either – but only a little! You may decide that you want to go a little wider from your target niche and experiment, but you should dedicate no more than 20% of your total time to these experiments. Straying too far away from your potential client base and market segment is likely to be a waste of time.

Squeeze the most from social media

Unless you’re trying to sell weapons or circumvent UN sanctions, social media must be a big part of your trip. These days, it’s such an important component that it warrants an article in its own right, so let’s just include a couple examples here:

  • LinkedIn is a great place to look for prospects, as well as for follow-ups.
  • Consider reporting live from your trip on Twitter.
  • Use Facebook to stay in touch with the people you meet.
  • If you are selling to Millennials or Gen-Ys, why not use TikTok and Instagram?
  • Ultimately, it’s a numbers game – the more people you reach, the higher your chances of getting that dream contact.

The path to new markets – and success!

We wouldn’t be giving you this advice if we didn’t know it worked! After our trip to the US, in addition to the 100 contacts mentioned earlier, we signed the first contract within a month of returning. We had similar results from another recent trip (this time to Finland), so we know these tips work.

Entering new markets is never easy, but it’s a necessary part of expansion. We shared our tips but we are always keen to learn – how do you explore new countries?



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