In today’s fast moving world of ecommerce, expanding internationally can be a very tempting business strategy for many SMEs.

However, in all of the excitement, it can be easy to overlook the cultural differences from country to country when expanding across borders.

With that in mind, here are the top three most overlooked barriers to entry, and some tips on how best to avoid them.


Lost in Translation

Just because you can speak the language doesn’t mean that you are speaking their language. Make sure you know the difference between “I like that idea” and “yes”.

Business negotiations can be difficult at the best of times, negotiating through a minefield of “management speak” can sometimes feel impossible. Add to this situation a language barrier and you have real cause for concern. However, it’s not always the language that is the issue.

Cultural differences from country to country can bring more subtle changes to how feedback is delivered. Positive phrases like “it’s great” or “this can help us” can be misconstrued as verbal agreements. Don’t assume that the deal is done until it actually is! Be especially mindful of etiquette regardless of whether you are near or far away from home. Cultural differences can often be unexpected too, so it’s important to research before you set foot in a new country.

Unexpected Costs

There can be huge discrepancies between the costs of identical items, depending on where they are sold. Machinery, vehicles and raw materials that are readily available in your original location, might be far rarer where you are hoping to expand into.

And then there’s your new workforce. Expanding is difficult. You can’t be everywhere at once so your new team is your most important new asset, be sure to take care of them. It can be as simple as being aware of the benefits that you are expected to provide to them, and the labour standards for that region, and, if the worst was to happen, being prepared to handle the variable cost of healthcare from country to country.


It often seems that pesky red tape can be everywhere, especially when you’re considering international expansion - and it only takes a little bit in an unexpected place to trip you up.

Ensuring you have the correct Visas and permits is an essential part of expanding into a new territory. Despite a great deal of overlap, there are still big differences between the legal paperwork required for a company practising in the United States, versus the UK, not to mention the differences between a work “visa” and a work “permit”.

If all of this sounds too overwhelming, don’t worry, you’re not alone. These days there are many government departments and chambers of commerce with the primary focus of helping new businesses navigate their way through the often bewildering landscape of regulations, marked as they are with red tape.

These are just a few of the issues that are most commonly overlooked by new businesses hoping to expand geographically. Thankfully, each one can be avoided through a little forethought, and a little help. Help and advice from knowledgeable industry experts is often free to acquire, and can prove to be invaluable.