Staffing firms based in one or several countries are increasingly looking to expand their geographic footprint and take advantage of high growth markets, possibly by following existing clients into new territories.

Before you get started, however, use Staffing Industry Analysts’ bi-annual global staffing forecasts for benchmarking performance against the broader market, budgeting or investing decisions, and finding the most attractive national markets in the industry. In our first forecast of 2016, we estimated that the global staffing market will grow by 5% this year, with double-digit growth projected in the Italian staffing market, which has benefitted from recent legislative changes, and in China, where the market continues to develop at an impressive rate.

Country nuances. Opening new operations in a new country is a complex and dynamic process. It is a significant undertaking that could disrupt existing business activities. Business leaders will be required to gain an understanding of the targeted markets, the competition, current local market trends, and the requirements to successfully launch and drive growth. Each national staffing market has its own economic, cultural, governmental nuances and navigating different laws and regulations can be particularly testing.

To combat these challenges, firms should be flexible in the policies and procedures implemented during international expansion. Develop a localized strategy and business plan that drives local success while remaining integrated with the overall corporate strategy and objectives. Working on a development strategy will help firms to measure progress. It should set out your methods, costs, targets and a realistic schedule and you should revise your business plan to incorporate it.

Some staffing markets have particularly onerous regulatory frameworks, so it is critical that strong legal processes are put in place to minimize unnecessary commercial risks. Certain government agencies have strict requirements that necessitate legal documentation be in place before operating within the country. To offset downstream risks and liabilities, firms must be proactive from the outset.

Structuring your entity. Once the decision is made to establish a presence overseas or across borders, the firm needs to consider which structure of entity to use, with each structure coming with a variety of consequences, including employee/partner status, taxation and public filing requirements. There are several ways staffing firms can enter a new market; to open a subsidiary, to acquire or merge with an existing local business, or to develop a strategic partnership — this could be through franchising, a joint venture, or licensing, or sourcing a local distributor or provider. Each of these options have various advantages and disadvantages which are unique to the individual business and the local market the business may wish to enter. The research undertaken should be able to indicate which the best option is. Once a particular route to market has been selected, the firm can then seek out specific advice on how to execute that model from local staffing associations or business councils.

Timing. To maximise international growth opportunities, however, there are first a number of factors that staffing firms need to take into account including timing. Ideally, the company will know when it is ready to expand abroad as it has gained significant market share and growth has flat-lined and/or the company is already selling to, or getting order requests from, other countries.

However, too often staffing firms make the mistake of attempting to grow too soon. Instead, firms should wait until they have a period of successful trading behind them to provide evidence that their business model works. This, coupled with market research, will indicate whether there is sufficient demand to justify expansion. Most successful expansions focus on gradual, organic growth that is more manageable and involves less risk.

Expanding your business overseas is not for the fainthearted, but for midsize to large staffing firms, it will be a business objective as global markets offer greater opportunities for growth. By performing due diligence and focusing on a country by country approach, the difficult job of “going global” can produce great results.