1. Do not be afraid to ask for support.
In 2015 I enrolled in the Executive Masters in Leadership program at Georgetown, where my classmates convinced me that I should put in place an advisory board. I thought they were crazy, because I had the perverse belief that others would not be interested in supporting my vision. It took several months of convincing (thank you Darrell & Joe!), but finally I took the plunge and set about to try to put one in place for 2016.
Since I believe in going big or going home, I invited the most successful international business people and investors I met throughout my career, who had still been generous and kind enough to give me more than a minute of their time at some point. I penned a few bullet points of what I could offer them - to communicate appreciation for their time. Next thing I knew, we had a droolworthy advisory board that a company of any size could be proud of. Let me tell you- there is nothing more empowering than knowing that the people you admire the most are supporting you in your vision. Had I never asked, it would have never happened. You can learn more about them here.
Throughout 2016, I learned that the true value of our advisory board is not what I gain from their support. It is the resulting extension of incredible resources and expertise that we are able to offer to our clients in building their multinational ventures.
2. You can make money by not spending it.
2016 was the first year that we turned a profit. Yet, we were actually more selective about the clients that we took on, choosing to focus on a smaller portfolio. How did we do it?
I like to do our bookkeeping myself. Might sound a little crazy, but as my career foundation is in international investments, I like to keep my financial modeling and accounting skills sharp. When reviewing previous years' expenses, line by line, I saw in gory detail how all of the little expenses, that I was not "nickel and diming" our clients for, had added up really fast.
So 2016 was all about delivering engagements to our clients with a strong upfront budgeting of the associated out-of-pocket expenses, and actively structuring these engagements to minimize them however possible. For most of our engagements, we pay the out-of-pocket expenses from our compensation, so this has been critical to securing our profitability.
I also was a lot more careful with our business development budget. For example, instead of spending $5000 going to Thailand for a 3-day business development conference, like I did in 2015, I focused on spending time in networking groups that meet locally and regularly. For example, I spent maybe $400 total on ten lunch meetings with the same group of business owners, building stronger relationships. Of course, this is possible because I live in Washington, DC where international business networking opportunities abound.
3. Bold brand expression is the way to go.
This year, we decided our marketing should be more about "walking the walk and not just talking the talk." Actually, in our case, walking and talking are the same. Let me explain.
Instead of continuing to market that we have a depth of multilingual resources that we use on our clients' behalf, we started demonstrating. As of April 2016, our monthly briefing has been published in five languages: English, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, and French. This does more than demonstrate our multilingual capacity. It also communicates to our friends, clients, and partners who speak these languages that we respect and value them in a way that we could never communicate in English.
4. The potential of a multinational entrepreneur lies in their vision and passion, not in their experience.
A lot of professionals have extensive business experience across the globe. However, what 2016 has taught me is that the potential of a multinational entrepreneur does not lie in their experience, although that certainly can be a big asset. Instead, a strong vision and passion define the potential of a multinational entrepreneur. Experience can be gained along the way, or hired by engaging consultancies like ours.
I am thinking in particular of two clients we worked with this year. One of them we helped to enter the United Arab Emirates last year, and this year helped them enter Qatar. Yet, they have never left the country. I still remember how enthusiastic they were when I first approached them as a potential client. They had their eyes wide open to opportunity, and a great product with universal appeal.
Another client we helped this year to enter East Asia and Subsaharan Africa. Imagine my shock when I learned that he had no intentions of EVER going to these regions himself, and in fact would rather have us do so for him! While we firmly believe that getting on the ground is critical to growing a multinational business, playing to your strengths is important. And if your strength is your ability to build strong relationships with consultancies like ours who can get on the ground for you, then more power to you! If you also find this outlook surprising, try arguing with the fact that his multinational business is profitable and growing.
We wish all of our clients and friends a prosperous and happy 2017. Drop us a note and let us know how you are doing.