Ten Steps for Successful International Expansion

Kessinger_successful intl expansion September 5, 2023 By: Kristen Kessinger, CAE

Before expanding internationally, associations must first examine several considerations, ranging from legal requirements and market potential to prospective partnerships and low-stakes market tests.

Back in June, experts from ASAE’s International Associations Advisory Council hosted a World Café to discuss international expansion.

“The U.S. association market has experienced a lot of ups and downs over the past couple of years, with some associations curtailing their global outreach during the pandemic, and others seeing significant international growth,” said Jakub Konysz, CAE, founder and CEO of Global Navigators and immediate past chair of ASAE’s International Associations Advisory Council. “The global marketplace continues to present many opportunities for U.S.-based associations, but the growth has to be systemic, supported by the board and existing members, with a long-term commitment.”

During the virtual event, participants shared 10 critical steps for associations to take when establishing an international presence for the first time or expanding to additional markets. Here’s a brief look at each of them.

1. Leverage engaged members and bring them on the journey with you from the start. Your members are your best champions and will help you make connections, spread the word, and get more deeply engaged within the local community.

2. Obtain a clear understanding of the legal requirements of the region, ideally by obtaining legal counsel in the area in which you are considering expansion. This could include the impact of regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on your association, as well as general requirements related to incorporating and setting up your finances.

3. If your association administers certifications, consider the additional legal and operational hurdles. Is translation needed? Should you trademark your credential’s name(s) in the country? Do you have the infrastructure to offer in-person exams?

4. Know your association’s risk tolerance. Is the board risk-averse or risk-tolerant? How much time are they willing to invest in the success of the expansion?

5. Assess current penetration and potential in the target market(s). Leverage qualitative and quantitative research. Key considerations are the economy, the competition, and the total available market (TAM).

6. Using that research, get board buy-in and understanding that money will likely not be made in year one. In fact, it often takes three to five years.

7. Determine the membership and dues structure that will be most successful in the country or region. For example, does the economy of the country require specific geo-pricing, or does one membership price for all of your members make more sense?

8. Develop a clear plan and KPIs. Incorporate the regional plan into your association’s strategic plan.

9. Build a network of local professionals, such as leaders from other associations. They can point you to quality service providers and help explain nuances of the local market.

10. Consider low-cost tests before significant investments are made. As an example, speaker Jim Piechowski, CAE, who is senior director of global business development at HOCK International, shared that the Institute of Management Accountants entered China by first conducting a research study with the Chinese government that led to strong connections.

Kristen Kessinger, CAE

Kristen Kessinger, CAE, is director of communications and content at ISACA, a global association of IT and cybersecurity professionals, and a member of ASAE’s International Associations Advisory Council.