Financial Data
Updated 14 Jul 2020

How we learnt to do business across borders

Doing business internationally is exciting yet poses challenges in innumerable forms. My business hosted an event in Mozambique, and we learned a few tough lessons.

Glenn van Eck, 22 May 2018  Share  0 comments  Print

All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions

South Africa’s challenging economic growth prospects keeping you up at night? Why not use the insomnia to strategise around growing into a new country? Here are a few lessons learnt through my own businesses growth across borders:

1. Getting there – the first steps

Make friends on all sides. The control of goods leaving a country is one of the core functions of Customs and it’s complex  to navigate. Ensure you partner with a trusted import/export advisor and transport company on both sides of the border.

You can also find a knowledgable person at the ‘other end’ to handle any hiccups that might occur. It might not be necessary, but just incase, it helps to have someone in the know you can call on, just in case. 

2. Do a recce – it helps identify speedbumps

Visit the destination, and identify potential suppliers before you commit to doing business internatioanlly. The reason being you get to understand a region and your potential market, and will be able to identify potential technical and aesthetic challenges and find solutions.

This definitely alleviates stress in the long-term. Use your recce trip to identify reliable locals who will be able to assist you. Ask for recommendations while you’re there, and do some research. Think of the assistance you might need, and find the right people.

Related: You can expand your success beyond borders: 3 Thriving African markets

3. Logistics – a trusted transport partner is needed

The travel costs for your team can skyrocket when working abroad. To prevent this from happening, use a focussed team of multi-skilled members. As an example we had a core team of eight head off to Mozambique – they were supported in Maputo by an additional eight local casuals.

They were identified through contacts and played a critical role as they understand and know the local market.  They ran errands for the team, operated as a driver, translated when required, and had good local connections. In our experience, the casual team were our first port of call when we needed help.

If you need gear overseas, create an equipment schedule so you can plan multiple uses for each item you take. For example our screens were used at a supplier fair and then taken down and transported for use at the evening gala dinner. But, also appoint a local supplier just incase something breaks and you need a repair or replacement.

4. Scenario planning – strategise for the worst

Think through the ‘what if’s’. But remember, you can plan as much as you like and things can and will go wrong. In planning meetings, talk through different scenarios and then decide on how these will be overcome, you will generally call on your recently identified local contacts and suppliers who can act on short notice.

5. Cultural differences – learn the nuances of a country

Luckily Mozambique’s culture isn’t too different to South Africa, but familiarise yourself with the traditions, customs and cultural traits of the country where you are working. Even when you think you know something, you might discover it's only a stereotype. Culture also determines the etiquette of gifts, tipping and the role of casuals and temporary team members. It’s vital to do your research or you could land up offending without realising.

Above all, as times look challenging at home, enjoy the experience of growing across borders. It is worth every moment.

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About the author

Glenn van Eck

Aged 20, Glenn started a gardening service in his second year of University, and sold it five years later to buy Magnetic Storm. Still at the helm, Glenn has grown a two-man disco into a full-service event and tech company with offices in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, servicing the entire country.

Glenn has also invested in Chas Everitt Nelson Mandela Bay, the Electoquip franchise (now incorporated into Magnetic Storm), established Imagio Productions with Glen Meyburgh, and joined forces with his brother Shaun to form The Tourism Coach.

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