Global Expansion Strategy: Why Partnerships are Key to Winning New Business

Global Expansion Strategy: Why Partnerships are Key to Winning New Business
global expansion

You already know there’s never been a better time to start expanding your business globally. But knowing something and knowing how to do it are two different things. This trips up even the most savvy business owners in pursuing global growth.

In our webinar Shopify Partners Go Global: Why and How to Make Referrals Across Borders, Brennan Loh, Director of International Markets at Shopify, suggested that the key to doing business internationally is to hire local researchers and translators, or create business partnerships with other Shopify Partners in those regions. And a number of partners are doing just that: working with other professionals around the globe to go international and build their businesses. 

In this article, we talk to some of those entrepreneurs to learn how they joined forces with international Shopify Partners, built great working relationships, and took their businesses to the next level. 

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Why you need to build global partnerships

Global expansion can be as simple as offering your services across a border or even to another country that speaks the same language. But while that seems simple in practice, actively beginning to work in foreign markets can seem to be a massive undertaking. There are considerations like language, culture, and legalities to worry about. 

This is why building global partnerships is such a powerful tool. By partnering with someone native to the region you’re targeting, you have a gateway to the business customs and resources you need. You can use international partners for research services, finding prospects, building ad campaigns, creating localized copy for translated pages, and more. These are the kinds of partnerships can have a long term impact on your business. They can be fundamental to how the business works and the service you provide to clients. By teaming up together, you create a symbiotic relationship where both organizations win.

Finding potential business partners

When you make the decision to go global, you’ll face numerous challenges. Thankfully though, this isn’t a venture you have to navigate alone. But finding potential businesses or agencies to partner with can be a challenge. How do you know where to start?

Chase Clymer, co-founder of Ohio-based Electric Eye, shares how and why he made a partnership with Mexican Shopify Partner, Getmore

“The ecommerce market in Mexico is about to explode in growth. At first, we weren’t targeting Mexico, but after speaking with Alejandro Moreno from Getmore at Shopify Pursuit, we found complementary skill sets that would allow us to explore international growth.”

It wasn’t just Chase who saw the opportunity. Alejandro from Getmore did, as well.

“When looking at the commerce market in Mexico and comparing it to the US, it’s about five years behind,” Alejandro says. “Working with Electric Eye, it’s like we have eyes in the future—we know what to expect in Mexico.”

The partnership between Electric Eye and Getmore has proved fruitful for both businesses. Getmore are helping Electric Eye grow in the US, and Electric Eye are helping Getmore grow in Mexico. The pair were lucky—the chance encounter at Shopify Pursuit, and a mutual recognition of the shared opportunity, has helped them both grow their client base in new markets.

But you don’t need to be at a Shopify event to find these kinds of opportunities. You can start building connections with other Shopify Partners in the countries you want to target, right from home. You can start by finding Shopify Partners already working in those countries. For example, Partner-run communities like the Shopify Français Facebook Group are a great place to start.

Outside of the Shopify Partners program, you can use marketplaces that have an international presence to look for freelancers or agencies local to the country you’re trying to target. Some options include: 

Once you find a potential partner, what do you do? How do you firm up a functional business relationship? Below, we explore what the foundations of what you should aim for in building a solid international partnership.

Learn how to take your clients global, too

Help your clients take their business global with our new Shopify Partner Academy course, Cross-border Selling with Shopify. Learn how to advise merchants, expand your service offering, and optimize merchants’ stores to sell internationally. Become a trusted advisor as your clients go global.

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4 tips to working with a global partner

When you partner with a business, systems, processes, and relationships don’t just click into place, whether it’s a local partnership or an international one. Building a partnership that works and is mutually beneficial takes time and effort. Below, we look at four important aspects of growing a shared understanding, so that you and your partner can excel.

1. Start small

In the beginning of working with a partner, you’re still building trust and an understanding of the other business’s working style. Starting small and not jumping in all at once is what Electric Eye did to seed the beginnings of their partnership with Getmore. 

Electric Eye already had some projects in the pipeline that involved a full store build, and they figured it would be a great way to test the waters of a potential partnership.

“We’re a boutique agency that focuses on marketing and strategy,” Chase explains. “In house, we don’t have the design and development talent—we’ve always hired help via subcontractors. Instead of turning to a subcontractor with this project, we decided to try working with Getmore. The first experiment went well, then we tried it two, then three more times. After three successful attempts, we realized a long-standing partnership would make sense to patch this missing skillset.”

Shopify app developers Sufio approached international partnerships in a similar fashion. They knew they had the expertise in house to handle development, but needed help with translations and tax legislation in their target countries, so that their invoicing app would function correctly in those markets. They turned to Dubai-based Creative971

Norbert Ordog, Sufio’s founder, shares how they found a great partnership in the making. 

“We worked with Creative971’s accountant to help us navigate releasing our app in France. They helped us understand how the VAT legislation works and what other requirements our apps needed to support local markets. We found success in the first job, so we went back to Creative971 and asked for an accountant to help us with our next app build and figure out United Arab Emirates VAT legislation for us.”

Like Chase, Norbert is also considering a long-term partner to patch a missing skillset in the business. Norbert believes that working with the same translator in the long-term helps keep the language and style of this apps consistent, so building a formal partnership means building relationships with long-term benefits.

global expansion: sufio
Example of Sufio’s invoices in English and French languages.

Once you’re acquainted with your partner, the next step is to find the best way to work together. This is when it’s time to introduce systems and processes.

You might also like: How to Build Multilingual Shopify Apps.

2. Be fanatical about systems and processes

When it comes to partnering with a freelancer or agency, using the same systems and processes is vital to prevent communication issues and scope creep, and to reduce frustrations. 

This is a huge focus for Electric Eye and Getmore. 

This sounds like a lot of work to consolidate processes, but it’s essential. Now, we’re discussing what our extended service offerings are at both agencies to find where our strengths and weaknesses lie in acting as a joint service.

Chase Clymer, co-founder of Electric Eye

“Together, we’re building systems and processes to keep us aligned,” Chase explains. “We’re making sure we’re using the same software, reading the same books, and that we use and understand the same business jargon when communicating. We want everything to be seamless and have our businesses be parallel.”

Chase continues with their goals for the partnership. “We see the partnership becoming smooth and efficient in the future as we work out the kinks. This sounds like a lot of work to consolidate processes, but it’s essential. Now, we’re discussing what our extended service offerings are at both agencies to find where our strengths and weaknesses lie in acting as a joint service.” 

global expansion: partners
From subcontractors to partners, Electric Eye committed to building out a partnership by traveling down to Mexico to meet at Getmore’s office to define everything from the store build process to financials.

3. Navigate language barriers

Navigating a service offering in a new language is one of the many barriers to entering international markets, but it’s also where a partner can become the expert you lean on. 

Electric Eye and Getmore are about to navigate translating and localizing content for the first time. While the team at Getmore speak great English, the same can’t be said about Electric Eye’s Spanish. For the two agencies, a challenge lies ahead when dealing with their next client. 

“We’re about to share a project on email automations,” Chase explains. “This will be new grounds for our partnership and we’ll test as we go. The aim is Electric Eye will design the high-level strategy and develop the tactics, then the Getmore team will implement on this solution.” 

With one team tackling strategy and another tackling execution—including content creation—Electric Eye and Getmore can work together to overcome language issues.

There’s no single or correct way to navigate working in a new language. Just like our Shopify Partners, find a way that works for you and the freelancer or agency you decide to work with. Next, remember that this is a process that’s always evolving—so it’s important to have an experimental mindset.

4. Be aware of local or cultural barriers

As English speakers we often believe that other countries that share our language operate and run businesses the same way as we do. This isn’t always correct, as what’s a cultural norm in the United States isn’t the same in Australia. It’s vital to be aware of these differences so you can hire help to iron out the creases in those cultural differences.

Sufio has faced cultural challenges that have been helped along by global partnerships. Having immigrated from Europe to the US, and now based in San Francisco, they’re able to use their native knowledge to expand their app into international markets. Despite this knowledge, they knew they weren’t experts, so sought help from Cardiff-based Applingua.

“When it came to creating and translating content, we were happy research how VAT and tax legislation works, and then we created resources explaining how to set up taxes in your Shopify store to attract merchants,” Norbert says. “But when it came to releasing our app in a new language, we decided to work with Applingua for translations, because they’re the professionals and this was a high-risk project for us to manage on our own. We needed their expertise.”

Norbert and his team were so detail oriented around getting the best app translation they could, they even went on to hire two translators to check the work of the agency—because VAT legislation isn’t something to be taken lightly and doing this incorrectly could be crushing for both their customers and Sufio.

5. Don’t underestimate the learning curve in being a business partner 

A partnership can’t be built overnight. Partnering internationally is not like the typical outsourcing that’s been hugely popular in the last decade and more. This is an investment for both businesses, so it needs to be taken seriously.

Electric Eye and Getmore are constantly reevaluating how they work together.

“We had a project go off the rails and everyone was mad at each other, but that’s business,” Chase says. “Alejandro and I were forced to ask the hard questions and be honest about whether this would work or not. In the end, it strengthened our partnership.”

“We went into this thinking it was an experiment, “Alejandro adds. “At the start, we didn’t know about Electric Eye’s business or workflow. We had to move past a difficult period of learning who did what in one another’s business, and that there was a lot of pressure everywhere—from the client to expectations on each other’s business.”

We had to move past a difficult period of learning who did what in one another’s business, and that there was a lot of pressure everywhere—from the client to expectations on each other’s business.

Alejandro Moreno from Getmore

There are ways to navigate these inevitable difficulties. Find points to check-in with the person or agency you hire for help. Treat them as a teammate or collaborator by sharing company news, project updates, and by making time to meet with them. Keep in mind project management best practices, and be sure to keep everyone in the loop.

Partnerships to help you go global

Expanding globally isn’t something you should navigate alone. As this post lays out, the advantages of global business partnerships are clear, but it’s finding the right partner that’s the difference between operating internationally or staying in business domestically. Use the steps outlined above to find a global partner, and start exploring new ways you can begin working together. Hopefully, you’ll have a blossoming partnership in no time that will take both of your businesses to the next level, winning new clients across borders.

Have you worked with global partners? Share your experiences and best practices below!

About the Author

Adam Rogers is a Content Marketer for the Shopify Partners Program. He loves writing, but he's sure it hates him. He's a lover of books, music, guitars, and his wife Lacey.

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