Healthy Partnership Is Your Secret Weapon to a Successful International Expansion

Whether a company is entering its first new country or is trying to simplify the management of multiple vendors across dozens of international countries, every stage of the international expansion experience is challenging. That’s why clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 partner with Blueback Global to scale up their businesses around the globe.

And I do mean partner.

Reducing risk exposure, improving management, and organizing operations across employment, tax, payroll, finance, compliance, and general people operations requires an engaged team. To truly break down growth barriers and mitigate the ever-changing international employment risks, a real partnership between a client and Blueback Global is critical.

As one of the company’s International Operations Advisors, my role is all about daily support of clients. I ensure projects are on track and running smoothly, predictably, and inline with expansion goals. I’ve seen massively successful projects driven by collaborative engagement and I’ve seen projects crawl, challenged by indecision, bureaucracy, and poor planning.

In anticipation of this article, our CEO asked me “What issues get in the way of successful partnership and how do we at BGI and our clients maximize project value through partnership?” My goal is to share a perspective on how to avoid known partnership pitfalls and ensure successful project outcomes. The insight is true no matter the international expansion scenario or provider you work with. This isn’t an indictment against frustrating clients or a chance for me to vent, because there are at least two partners in every project! We are committed to transparency as a core value – so this is about what all parties can do to build toward project success. There are two critical issues that must be addressed in order to achieve a healthy partnership.

#1 – The issue that compromises international expansion project success most often is a lack of communication and responsiveness.

Busyness is the new office normal and this heightens the occurrence of slow and vague communications or general non-response. Rarely is this about disinterest. Few priorities hold the promise of growth or are connected to risk management like new country expansion or international operations management. It’s a problem of volume: too many emails, too many meetings, and too many projects competing for time.

On the BGI side, we’ve tried to address this by creating easy means for clients to intake information and make decisions. We organize weekly meetings and package to-dos or new asks in a single setting or email wrap up, where possible. We often review our approach to the project kick-off experience, building as much early context on timeline, goals, and expectations as possible so we can progress agenda items without eating up clients’ time unnecessarily. We also often draft taxonomy of departments, functions, and decision-makers in the client’s organization early on in the engagement. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet that’s effectively a ‘who’s who’ list of project participants, so we can quickly get the decisions we need and move on.

The most successful clients avoid responsiveness issues in a few key ways as well. First, they assign a project point-of-contact with decision making authority. This individual has been specifically tasked with owning this project and is empowered to say ‘no’ to other competing tasks that may swallow their calendar. This avoids bottlenecks and time-wasting threads of back-and-forth email with the recipient continually escalating items to a senior decision-maker.

Some clients also integrate decision making or follow up into natural, pre-existing meeting flows. For example, BGI may engage with a project manager that is already engaged in a successful cadence of daily or weekly syncs with the decision making VP. This individual has already been given the go-ahead to surface high-priority questions, which alleviates their fear or uncertainty in bringing issues up.

Going international is a business of decisiveness! Successful clients recognize this from day one.

#2 – The second critical issue of affecting project success relates to relationship imbalance. 

Company cultures vary as some treat vendors as external third parties, while others see no difference between service providers and full-time staff. In a project partnership, each mindset brings its own set of challenges. 

Should BGI (or another vendor) be left out of internal discussions or decisions related to expansion, then a client misses out on the full benefit the engagement can bring. Our company has advised dozens of companies across hundreds of countries. We’ve successfully led clients through the thorniest of compliance challenges in the world’s most complex business environments. This nuanced perspective is a gold mine of situational insight for clients – but we need to be deeply integrated for it to surface.

On the flip side, other clients tend to lean on BGI as in-house staff. The tendency is understandable; there is a steep learning curve in expansion and companies are afraid of missteps. The over-dependence, however, comes with a cost. A big part of BGI’s value is our ability to proactively lead projects, make decisions, and operate on the client’s behalf as a trusted advisor and guide. This saves clients time and improves outcomes, but requires some of our own time and space. By asking BGI to participate in every meeting and call, or pulse-check every decision and connect for status updates with team leads up and down the company, the client loses the potency of the service they invested in!

Our team is constantly improving how we scope work and recommend ways to engage. We can advise project leaders on best practices to create an even level of partnership and calibrated internal perspective on how and when to engage with our team. Of course, expansion is a delicate experience and everyone should expect some blurring of lines between staff/vendor as we pull together. But a healthy balance must be pursued.

Our team wants to make global expansion efforts simpler, safer, and more profitable. We have a client-first culture that prioritizes support. Like in every good relationship, we realize there are opportunities for both partners to grow and improve the partnership. By focusing on communication, responsiveness, and balance together with clients, we know the likelihood of success grows.