Conquering international markets is an indispensable growth lever for companies. Such a project can take different forms or follow different paths: from e-commerce to mergers and acquisitions.
International expansion can be an important growth factor for your company and an undeniable source of opportunities – both commercially and in terms of innovation or resilience. After a complete assessment of your current situation, an inevitable question follows: which strategy should you apply to realise your project? There's no magic formula or mapped-out path: in reality, you often adopt a wide-ranging approach based on various strategies. Nevertheless, we do see some broad outlines. And each has its own strengths and limitations. Whatever you decide, your choice should fit into an overall thinking and be in line with the current situation and the future of your business. The objective? Increasing your chances of success and keeping the risks under control as much as possible.
1. Direct and indirect export
This is naturally one of the most widely used strategies for conquering foreign markets. You can sell your products abroad through one or more channels:
- E-commerce: E-commerce is a fast and accessible solution to get 'far' with limited resources. Internet sales have grown very strongly in recent years but have a significant impact on the logistical workload. This includes not only technology and conformity, but also the commercial aspect. You are far from your target market and must deal with competitors from all over the world, while the internet knows no borders – and that's both an asset and an obstacle.
- A local intermediary: A gamble without too many risks, because you make use of the power of local sales – your agent delivers the customer's orders locally and you transfer them. The only thing left to do is to decide how to distribute your products. In this regard, it's important that you make full use of your knowledge of the foreign market. Think, for example, of consumers' consumption habits and expectations. Although this approach does not require major investments (payments on commission), it isn't entirely without risk. The success of your project is entirely in the hands of your local contact, leaving you to count on that partner's reliability.
- Commercial distribution: A similar approach to conquering the international market. This strategy can be implemented quickly and is the result of cooperation with independent distributors who are based in your target area. They buy the goods and then sell them, enabling you to benefit from their expertise and network. Unlike the intermediary, this distributor takes several tasks off your hands (invoicing, collection, marketing costs or import costs). Choosing the right partners and determining the terms of the contract is no easy task. After all, your project's success depends on it...
- Transfer of patents or technology: This is a way to make your know-how or technology pay off, not your products. This transfer of skills gives a foreign entity the right to use your methods or innovation within the framework of a previously established contract (geographical area, duration, etc.). An opportunity to go international where you 'outsource' production, sales and distribution. Contract preparation is one of the stumbling blocks of this approach.
2. Local establishment
Another model for internationalisation is to establish your business abroad. This means that you go local: you establish your entire value chain in another country, or you produce, distribute or sell your products there yourself. This geographical approach necessarily requires greater investment, but it also gives you more clout. This approach is also a way of reinforcing your resilience: the financial and commercial risks, as well as the pressure on your value chain, are spread over several areas. Over the years, a more flexible approach has also been introduced, allowing companies to move more flexibly in line with the international situation. Various options are also available here:
- Subsidiary or branch: In both cases, it's a matter of establishing a firm and lasting foothold in the local market. However, the project requires a solid foundation and a long-term vision. You should also think carefully about the legal status: do you opt for a subsidiary or for a branch? Consequently, when making this decision, take into account various factors: the degree of autonomy, the desired degree of decentralisation or consultation, the legal and tax implications, whether or not to produce locally (to take advantage of cheaper raw materials, for example), the financial resources that you can mobilise, and so on. In any case, a perfect lever for applying the well-known formula 'think globally, act locally'.
- International joint venture: This principle is based on the creation of synergies. Your company joins a company that already has a local presence and both companies complement each other. Each company benefits from the other's strengths while sharing the activity's risks, control and common costs. Such a joint venture or partnership often requires a customised legal structure. As you can see, a joint venture is not an easy marriage. It's therefore crucial that you find the right partner and come to an agreement with them concerning each party's input and responsibilities.
- Merger or acquisition: This growth strategy offers a few advantages. What's the greatest advantage? A merger or acquisition is a method of consolidating and diversifying your business. It's also a 'quick' way to conquer a new market by exploiting the local company's competitive advantages (technological, commercial, etc.). Such a project naturally entails not only potential benefits, but also risks. For example, you may misjudge the sources of value creation or the risks, or have difficulty integrating.
As you can see, your international project's success depends on many factors. And, first and foremost, on your own strategic choices and your ability to develop a clear vision of exactly what you want to achieve. From the development of a commercial partner network to a sustainable local presence, there are many options that deserve not only thorough consideration, but also professional guidance.
A full 'assessment' before you go abroad
We can no longer deny the benefits of internationalisation. But is your business ready for it? A thorough assessment to measure your project's success is therefore a must before you cross the border.
Just because your business is doing well in our country doesn't mean that you can just jump into the export market. An international breakthrough is an important strategic (and necessary) choice that requires extensive preparation. The first step is to take a detailed look at the state of affairs of your company. Because that way you can:
- Highlight your strengths and success factors: a specific skill, your expertise, your brand image, etc.;
- Identify your weaknesses: both internal (poor knowledge of the target market, need for funding, etc.) and external factors;
- Prepare your structure for 'new' demands: in terms of human resources and in financial, organisational, legal or commercial terms;
- Draw up your roadmap: make the necessary changes, maximise your assets and find the right solutions for your weaknesses.
A COMPLETE TOOLKIT
Such an assessment is not market research in the literal sense of the word, although some elements will eventually overlap or complement one another. The assessment should also enable you to gain insight into existing opportunities (competitive advantage, commercial trends, etc.) and threats (changes in legislation, major competition, etc.). To do that, you must be able to look at your foreign target group with the necessary distance.
There are many tools for this. Examples include the SWOT analysis, Porter's five forces model, the Boston Consulting Group matrix or the PESTEL analysis to measure the influence of macro-environmental factors. So, feel free to use those tools, but also remember the importance of step-by-step guidance.
A MUCH-NEEDED SELF-ANALYSIS
Give attention to different elements. To achieve a relevant assessment, you must also find answers to a series of important questions:
- Create your 'identity card'
Take an unbiased look at your organisation. What are your values, culture, references, image, etc.? How are you perceived by others? Does your positioning match your identity? Through these questions, you'll also gain insight into the reasons for your successes and failures on the international market. It's interesting to repeat the positive points and learn from your mistakes.
- Analyze your position on the domestic market
Take stock of your commercial position. Examine the evolution of your recent results and your weighting in your segment (market share, competition, degree of dependency, etc.). Find out what stage your products and services are in (launch, growth, saturation or decline). Next, you can consider your market's prospects and future: how will it evolve? A very important question at a time where the challenges of the sustainable transition are radically changing many sectors.
- Assess your products and services
Each country has its own specific obligations and standards. So, ask yourself whether your products and services are 'compliant', both commercially and legally. Perhaps you need to adapt them? Or maybe your production or delivery method needs to change (e.g. to respect the cold chain and guarantee reasonable delivery times)? In other words, are you ready for the step from a commercial point of view?
- Lay bare your capabilities
If you want to conquer foreign markets, you must be able to cope with that growth rate on an operational level as well. Can you increase or adapt your production capacity to the new demand? Are you ready for that in terms of supply and logistics? Also take into consideration the reliability of your partners and suppliers. And don't forget that your inventory will increase, and you must also have guarantees in that regard as well.
- Examine your financial situation carefully
Going international means a big investment for your company. So, take a close look at your finances and see whether you have enough funds to bring the project to a successful conclusion. You need these resources, for example, to launch commercial initiatives locally (while waiting for the first revenues), to 'transform' your company in the necessary areas, to support your activity in your own country or to recruit additional staff.
- Carry out an analysis in the area of human resourcesTo export, you need qualified and skilled staff (production, sales teams, communication, after-sales service, R&D, etc.). You may also need to train staff or recruit new talent with international experience. Although internationalisation can be an extra motivation for your employees, it will also require additional efforts from them. So, don't lose sight of the 'human' factor either!
This complete audit of your structure gives you everything you need to make the right choices. Have you got the commercial strengths, the human and financial resources, the operational capabilities and the necessary experience to take the step? Do you need some extra support to adjust certain parameters? Or are you postponing the launch to find the right solutions for some weak spots? The adventure can begin once you're ready!
How are we doing when it comes to sustainable mobility?
A recently commissioned survey by BNP Paribas Fortis on mobility found that this remains a major challenge for the coming years. The bank is determined to play its part.
A survey among 2,000 people, and representative of the Belgian population, on mobility shows that the switch to electric driving is slowing. Almost 80% of those surveyed still drive a diesel or petrol vehicle, and more than a third of them have no intention of trading in their cars for a more environmentally friendly model any time soon. And yet almost 50% want to be driving electric by 2029. But before that switch, some hurdles first need to be cleared. According to two-thirds of respondents, the bank needs to take a proactive role in the transition to sustainable mobility.
- Only 10% of cars on the streets today are electric, hybrid or run on hydrogen. Users of these vehicles confirm they are very satisfied. Though most have their own charging station, public charging stations are a bottleneck.
- While fighting climate change remains the main argument for switching, changing mobility habits isn’t so easy. The switch to electric is slow, and more incentives are needed, such as new tax measures, and above all, a commitment from the government. Prices also need to come down. It is clear that the practical issues of driving and charging times mean people hesitate to make the switch.
- As a result, enthusiasm about new mobility initiatives is rather muted. Although, especially in big cities, an app that combines mobility options has good chances of success.
- Mobility and work are strongly linked. One in three people spend at least an hour a day travelling to/from work. It turns out that teleworking is a solution for only 50% of the people, and that the other half of the population don’t have the opportunity to work from home.
- More awareness needs to be created around new mobility. Not everyone is familiar with shared cars, bikes and charging stations yet.
BNP Paribas Fortis is determined to contribute to more sustainable mobility and be a mobility partner for both professional and private customers. We are doing this by informing audiences of all the advantages of an environmentally friendly switch. And also by offering support through financing, insurance and leasing. Our goal is to provide a global response to tomorrow's mobility needs through innovative services.
Travelling to work: the rise of cycling!
More and more people are cycling to work. Mobility solutions expert Philippe Kahn explains how and why.
People are changing the way they travel to limit their environmental impact: behaviours are starting to shift, and the use of bicycles is rising, including and especially for travelling to and from work. We spoke to Philippe Kahn, Mobility Solutions Expert at Arval BNP Paribas Group, about these developments.
Two out of three Belgians use soft mobility, mainly bicycles
According to Profacts’ “Mobility Tomorrow & Beyond” survey, two out of three Belgians have adopted soft mobility. "But the biggest change is the increasing use of bicycles for business travel and commuting. People are also using bicycles more on the school or nursery run, facilitated by the arrival of electric cargo bikes on the market," says Kahn.
A favourable regulatory framework
But what are the reasons for the increased use of bicycles for business travel? “Let’s first take a look at how the regulatory framework has changed," says Kahn. "In Belgium, the creation of the federal mobility budget has made alternative ways of travelling attractive for all employees. The budget makes it possible to choose a comfortable company bicycle as part of a tax-friendly salary package. Moreover, this mobility budget can even be used to cover housing costs if you work from home more than half the time or if you live within 10 km of your place of work. So instead of having a company car, people can choose to have a combination of an electric bicycle and a contribution to their housing costs. Furthermore, two measures effective from 1 May 2023 should reinforce this trend: the bicycle allowance for commuting is increasing to €0.27 net per km travelled, and all Belgian employees will be entitled to this allowance. In practical terms, this means that those who choose to cycle for these journeys will be substantially rewarded.”
Investment in public infrastructure is paying off
Another important factor in the increased use of bicycles is the development of road infrastructure.
Philippe Kahn: "One factor that can convince people to cycle to work is the certainty of a safe journey. A few years ago, cycling to work in Brussels, for example, could be dangerous. But today, cycling infrastructure is making these journeys increasingly safe, in particular thanks to the cycle motorways on which only bicycles can travel. Infrastructure investments are now also happening in the rest of Belgium, not just Flanders and its major cities. In recent years, Brussels has undergone significant changes, and things are also starting to move in Wallonia.”
Half of all Belgians live within 15 km of their place of work
Distance from the workplace is also crucial in determining how attractive cycling is. "One in two Belgians lives within 15 km of their workplace, a distance that you can easily cycle," adds Kahn. "Along with the Improved infrastructure, this means that cycling to work is a realistic option for many Belgians. And the €0.27 per kilometre allowance will be an added incentive for them to make the change.”
What is the federal mobility budget?
This scheme allows the budget initially allocated to an employee’s company car to be divided into three pillars within a salary package. These three pillars are:
- a car with no or low CO2 emissions (less than 95 g/km), such as an electric vehicle;
- sustainable means of transport, including cycling, but also in some cases this pillar can also cover housing costs, such as rent or mortgage repayments;
- the balance of the mobility budget, which is paid in cash.
The mobility budget makes it possible, for example, to replace a combustion-powered company car with an electric car and a bicycle, with the same tax-friendly terms for both the employer and the employee.
78% of leased company bicycles are electric
To meet the needs of companies and their staff, Arval is now offering bicycle leasing. This full-service lease covers maintenance, breakdown assistance, insurance and repairs, as is traditionally the case for a car. Philippe Kahn points out some very significant trends in this area: "60% e-bikes and 18% speed pedelecs: in total, 78% of our leased company bikes are electric.
High-end bicycles costing several thousand euros, such as electric cargo bikes, are also highly successful, which is probably due to opportunity: the mobility budget or employer “cafeteria plan” benefits packages are making it possible for people to acquire these bikes. But it may also be a consequence of Belgium’s specific tax regulations: the more expensive the bicycle, the more significant the tax incentive. Another interesting observation is that when a bicycle replaces a car, it’s usually the family’s second car. So we’re not yet seeing any radical replacement of cars by bicycles, but the emergence of the company bicycle is definitely reducing the total number of kilometres travelled by car.”
Digital applications: shifting up a gear
Lastly, Kahn points to another factor that could encourage more people to take up cycling to work. "I think that technology, and in particular digital applications, can make a big difference. We can expect strong growth in the market for apps dedicated to commuting by bike. The business model for on-the-go electric bike rental is already based on a smartphone app. So imagine the success of an application that gives you a safe and bicycle-friendly route for travelling to and from work, and the boost that this could give to this type of travel," concludes Kahn.
Biomethane from Bois d'Arnelle: Walloon biogas, a link in the energy transition chain
Producing biogas through fermentation of agricultural waste? That is exactly what they do at Biomethane du Bois d'Arnelle, Belgium's largest production facility in Hainaut.
You can spot the three large grey domes and a cone-shaped roof from a distance in the countryside around Frasnes-lez-Gosselies. This is a biogas production unit. It took its creator and CEO, Jérôme Breton, 12 years to complete this project due to the lack of a legal and administrative framework. But today, the unit is operational, producing 70,000 MWh of energy.
Turning food waste into biomethane
"We recycle food waste and agricultural materials, livestock manure, straw, beet leaves, peelings, etc. from farmers in a 15-km radius around the site", says Jérôme Breton. "We work with 100 farmers for whom this represents additional income. In digesters, i.e., concrete tanks that are heated to 40°C, bacteria digest the material and produce biogas, consisting of 45% CO2 and 55% CH4 methane. We recover this biomethane through filtration, before injecting it into the natural gas distribution network. Fermented matter or digestate, a black liquid that is rich in organic matter, which is very nutritious for crops, is spread as a fertiliser in the surrounding region, where it is used to permanently store CO2 in the soil and completely replaces chemical fertilisers."
About 15% of the biogas is converted into electricity and heat, half of which is used for the unit’s own needs. The remaining 85% is purified and transformed into biomethane. Once it has been injected into the grid, this biomethane can be used as fuel or as a raw material for petrochemicals. It can also be used to power turbines, and the heat generated can be recovered, just like in a car engine. “While a cogeneration engine, which produces electricity and heat simultaneously, has a total efficiency of between 40 and 80%, our system allows 99.5% of the biogas produced to be injected into the grid”, the young entrepreneur explains. "The pressure varies in a distribution network. That way, the infrastructure can absorb injections without the need for additional investments to store them."
Growing to valorise
The company also grows maize, beets and cereals to valorise them as biogas: "We made a deliberate choice to grow 600 hectares of energy crops to offer farmers a complementary diversification pathway. This accounts for 30% of our raw materials. These crops are stored to allow us to 'smooth' the inflows into our digesters, which depend on agricultural and food activity, on a seasonal basis."
BNP Paribas Fortis, the only bank with such advanced skills
Jérôme Breton says the project would not have been possible without the support of BNP Paribas Fortis. "We would not have gotten funding if it wasn't for the work of their expert. It is the only bank to have such high-level skills in-house. All the other partners also benefited from the analyses and information that he provided to us! A strong, lasting relationship of trust has developed as a result. In my model, I didn't want to rely on public financing for what I do. At the same time, I wanted to produce at the right prices. We produce and sell our biomethane at 100 euros per megawatt hour, while market prices were close to 350 euros last August."
At BNP Paribas Fortis, we are particularly proud to be supporting passionate, inspiring entrepreneurs. Because building the entrepreneurship of the future together is also an example of Positive Banking!