Women In Business

4 things to know before you take your startup abroad


Launching a startup in your own backyard can be a great way to build a business – after all you already understand the local market and you’re well placed to service them. But with the global marketplace increasingly opening across borders, we now have access to entirely new markets and customers. Why limit yourself to growth and sales in just one country?

Here are some of the tips I’ve learned running an international startup that can help take your startup global:

Find out which markets are opening up

Most Aussies know about our tried and true trade partners – New Zealand, the UK and the US. But what about the lesser known ones?

Australia has a number of free trade agreements in place with foreign countries that give Australians and Aussie businesses preferential treatment to take their goods and services abroad, and vice versa on the import side.

My startup imports Korean beauty products. The K-Beauty market is booming and since Australia and the Republic of Korea (ROK) entered into a free trade agreement (KAFTA) on 12 December 2014, trade with Korea in general has boomed. Today, the ROK is Australia’s fourth largest overall trading partner, with the two-way trade of goods and services totalling $38.7 billion in 2016-17. This is up from $22.7 billion in 2014-15.

I discovered first hand the opportunities for trade between Korea and Australia when I completed a study exchange program in Korea back in 2011. I fell in love with Korean cosmetics, and started bringing them back to Australia.

Seek help

You can’t be an expert in everything, so seek help from people and organisations already familiar with trading in the countries you’re interested in. Reach out to organisations like AUSTRADE and the local State and Territory Trade and Investment Commissions – they are valuable sources of knowledge and are a great way of acquiring the skills and knowledge you’ll need to do business abroad.

The Export Council of Australia also has a variety of helpful resources on their website.

Don’t limit yourself to seeking help on the Australian side either – the trade organisations in the countries you want to trade in are another great source of information. Plus, they have a vested interested in helping their own local businesses trade and export abroad.

Many countries also have programs for foreign startups seeking to access the local market, offering anything from financial assistance, to free office space and even angel investment. We were invited to attend the Foreign Market Access program run by the Seoul City Government last year, which gave us the opportunity to pitch our business to accelerators and investors, access local mentors and learn all about doing business in Korea – for free.

Expect red tape

There will be red tape, likely on both sides of the fence, particularly when it comes to importing or exporting commercial goods.

Australia, for example, has one of the strictest regimes in the world for importing cosmetics and there are multiple regulatory and legal regimes that we have had to familiarise ourselves with in order to import cosmetics to Australia. The same is true for exporting services – many industries are regulated by foreign countries, so you’ll need to make sure you speak to the right people and set up the right licenses so that you don’t break any local laws. The most important thing is to remain flexible as local laws can and do change – often very abrupbtly.

Understand the local culture

If you’re looking to successfully trade with another culture, it pays to learn as much as you can about it.

I found it was vital for us to demonstrate our commitment to our Korean partners and our relationship by fostering face-to-face contact and really getting to know their businesses. I ended up learning the Korean language so that I could properly communicate with our suppliers to avoid any misunderstandings and really gain an advantage in the market.

Learning simple things like how people in that culture prefer to be contacted (via phone, email or messenger app) or addressed (some cultures, use special prefixes or prefer to be called by their title rather than their name), as well how they do business in their culture will get you a long way.

Even better – jump on a plane and actually go and meet the people you will be doing business with. See how they live and what a day in their life actually looks like.

There are so many great ways to make the most of our world and global markets opening up, particularly in the startup space. Remember — fortune favours the bold… so get out there and see what opportunities you and your startup can make the most of!

About Lauren Lee

Lauren Lee is CEO of STYLE STORY, the authorised distributor of the best names in Korean beauty, including Mizon, Benton, Elizavecca, Missha, April Skin, Lindsay and Tosowoong as well as up-and-coming brands like Beauty of Joseon, PACKage, Soroci, iUNIK, Commleaf and many more. www.stylestory.com.au.

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