Opening an office abroad is like creating a new business – pretty tough!

March 5 2024

In the summer of 2022, Delegate opened an office in the Netherlands.

After years of growth, expanding our business areas, and opening domestic offices in Aarhus and Aalborg, expanding into new countries felt like the right thing and timing to evolve as a company.

A location in the Netherlands in the densely populated heart of Europe made sense as this would make it easier to attract new clients and qualified employees. Additionally, this would allow us to create synergies with other companies in The Digital Neighborhood based around Amsterdam.

Opening an office in another country does not differ markedly from opening one in your own country. Or to expand the company into a new business area. It is just as easy – or, honestly, just as hard.

You have to build an entirely new business with new clients. This requires a different approach. And it must be done under the leadership of new colleagues with other skills and expertise.

There will be bumps along the road, lessons to be learned, and patience to be needed.

A year and a half down the road, I would like to share my experiences and learnings of expanding to other countries and give ten pieces of advice to succeed. I am, of course, aware that every industry, every organization, and every country is different. It may be easier to open an office in the Netherlands than in Italy. But the essential points and lessons learned are, in my opinion, very similar.

My learnings on how to succeed in a new market

1. Sell something that already exists. There are plenty of uncertainties involved in opening a new office. Thus, sell a product or service you already have on the shelves or a product that is a natural extension of something you already have. Come up with something that customers already demand instead of first getting to know the market and developing your offer like a start-up.

2. Draw on your personal relations. It is difficult to start from scratch. If possible, get things moving by drawing on your own and the company's network. These relations could hand-carry you to new leads. In the case of Delegate, we have worked closely with some of our sister companies in the Netherlands, who have introduced us to potential clients. From there on, you must, of course, be able to fly yourself.

3. Make proper sales. Det er vigtigt at holde fast i sine normale salgsprincipper på trods af sin iver og det interne/eksterne pres. Når du er desperat efter at lande de første kunder, kan det være fristende at give den første løsning gratis eller tilbyde en stor rabat. På den måde er kunderne måske mere tilbøjelige til at sige ja, men ser de også den sande værdi i dit arbejde, når du i bund og grund køber dem? Du risikerer at bruge en masse tid uden at tjene penge og er måske ikke i en bedre position bagefter, da kunden nemt kan være væk, når det er tid til at betale.

4. Build while you grow. It is important to stick to your normal selling principles despite your eagerness and the internal/external pressure. When you are desperate to land the first clients, giving the first solution for free or offering a huge discount may be tempting. This way, clients might be more likely to say yes, but do they also see the true value in your work when you essentially buy them? You risk spending a lot of time without making money and may not be in a better position afterward since the client could easily be gone when it is time to pay.

5. Pay for quality and experience. You may have to pay more to hire experienced people. But you need to attract quality. For a smaller enterprise new to the market, it may be difficult to convince candidates that you are the next big thing. You might need to both persuade and overpay now and then return the investment in the longer run.

6. Bring your best salesmen. You only have a short time to build a viable sales pipeline, so don't keep the powder dry. Move one or more of your best salespeople from your organization over to the new office so that you can get the best possible start on the new adventures.

7. Reach a critical mass. Aim to reach 8-10 employees quickly. Only when you have reached a critical mass are you no longer as vulnerable if an employee isn't performing, gets sick, or resigns. At the same time, you have a proper team and not just a few employees in a half-empty office.

8. Do not underestimate cultural differences. Kultur – og arbejdskultur – betyder mere, end man skulle tro, for eksempel i forhold til, hvor åben og ærlig dialogen er på kontoret, eller i forhold til behovet for hierarkier. I vores tilfælde har Skandinavien og Benelux-landene tilsyneladende meget til fælles kulturelt set. Alligevel er der forskelle, og det kan man godt glemme eller undervurdere, nu hvor man arbejder i samme virksomhed.

9. Be present. Real, physical presence is still crucial, even in an era in which many physical barriers have been removed by technology. We pride ourselves on a work-from-anywhere culture. You mentally feel further away in another country – even in a Teams meeting. Talk, listen, look in the eye, have lunch together. Prioritize doing things that make colleagues from abroad feel like a part of the company. Several other employees from our Danish office and I regularly visit the Netherlands, and we ensure that our Dutch colleagues come here for social events, courses, and other occasions.
 Prioriter at gøre ting, der får kolleger fra udlandet til at føle sig som en del af virksomheden. Flere andre medarbejdere fra vores danske kontor og jeg besøger regelmæssigt Holland, og vi sørger for, at vores hollandske kolleger kommer her til sociale arrangementer, kurser og andre lejligheder.

10. Show trust. The geographical distance can create a sense of insecurity. The inevitable bumps along the road may feel larger than they are. One can easily speculate about what the management and colleagues at the headquarters are thinking. It is important to be aware of this uncertainty, show trust, and create the necessary psychological safety.

Follow these ten pieces of advice on opening a new office or expanding to a new business area, and you will get off to a good start.

“At åbne et kontor i et andet land adskiller sig ikke markant fra at åbne et i sit eget land. Eller at udvide virksomheden til et nyt forretningsområde. Det er lige så nemt – eller, helt ærligt, lige så svært. Du skal opbygge en helt ny forretning med nye kunder. Det kræver en anden tilgang. Og det skal gøres under ledelse af nye kolleger med andre færdigheder og ekspertise.”

Peter Østergaard
Co-CEO, Delegate