I started running marathons back in 2008, and after doing it for a couple years, I set a goal of running a marathon on all 7 continents. Of course, if you are going to run all 7, at some point you have to do Antarctica, and so that’s what I did last November.
Running a marathon is hard enough, and running a marathon in Antarctica is especially tricky, but I had an extra challenge: at the time, I was living in Singapore. You would have trouble finding two climates that were less alike. Heading into this new environment led me to ask a few questions.
The first question was: how would I learn about the environment? I had certainly never been there, nor had any of my friends. What sources of information could tell me what I need to know? How can I find people with the answers? Are there groups I can connect with? Government sources? Can social media help?
Next, I wondered, how would I do things differently? What’s different about running on snow and ice? How will the low temperatures affect me? How do I need to change the way I run when I go into this new environment?
And finally, the big question for everyone in a social media-driven world: how do I tell the story? My friends have never been to Antarctica, so how can I describe the experience such that it makes sense to them? How can I do it in a way that makes as much sense to friends in Vietnam as it does to friends in Chicago, or Berlin?
These same questions are also critical for businesses planning to move into new markets. Last week in Melbourne we ran a workshop in partnership with Bridge & Tower International, at which we met small business owners planning to move beyond Australia into new places.
As you look at expanding, you need to find ways to gather information about that market. Uncertainty slows you down, and knowledge is the key to moving forward confidently. Consider how you can connect to companies or government agencies who offer the information you need. What are the other formal and informal sources that can help you learn not only about the competitive market but also about the talent market you will face?
Expanding into a new environment requires a different kind of leadership. Part of that is because of the different cultures in which you are operating, but part of that is also driven simply by the larger size of your company and the remote nature of some of your employees. Think about what you will need to do differently to lead this larger group in separate places in a way that maximizes their performance.
As you expand, you need employees, so how can you create and communicate an employment brand that attracts the people you want in a variety of markets? You can reduce your recruiting costs and improve the performance of your team by having a clearly understood employment brand. You need to tell the story about working for your company to people coming from diverse perspectives — how can you design it and share it?
The marathon that I and 46 others ran in Antarctica was, for most of us, a one-time thing; your expansion into new markets should be more permanent. Still, the questions we needed to answer are the same ones you need to address as you get bigger. Your expansion into new markets carries with it a number of challenges, and the more you can reduce the uncertainty and answer your questions early, the smoother the process will be.
(Learn more about Designing Leaders’ New Markets workshop)