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Australia, Johannesburg, New York. Harnessing the power of an international network.

Howard Blake, Chairman of Blake Holdings, has built his business from a start-up in 1990 to a R350 million company by 2015. Passionate about digital disruption and its impact on building an international business, he owes the growth of his company to his ability to harness the international network he has built.

It’s one thing having to establish a reputable and trustworthy brand in the country of origin, but doing so on an international level is a daunting task, even for the most adept business owner.

Building sustainable business relationships in an international market often proves to be a tricky task, even for those with access to their own private jet and having the luxury to travel abroad every couple of weeks. Howard Blake has found ways to navigate these difficulties and has come out on top, having built a powerhouse international network that supports and believes in his business.

A challenging landscape

One of the biggest obstacles companies face when taking business international, is holding the attention of those you are trying to build connections with. In a world bombarded with products and solutions that are in direct competition with your own, it is hard to stand out from the crowd. “It is important to anticipate that the person you’re in contact with will do a digital look up on the brand, product and you, as a business owner. This is where honesty and a strong digital presence come into play,” Blake explains.

Unfortunately, in a world where social media has the power to make or break a business, a digital persona could mean the difference between a sustainable business relationship and a bad rap. If a business owner’s digital presence is impressively constructed and reaching thought leaders via the right channels, there is a strong possibility that the new contact will have more confidence to invest in the vision.

Business relationships are built on trust. That has always been the case. It is for this reason that owners need to be extremely careful how they market their product or solution while they network. Delivering on promises timeously and effectively will ensure that investors or possible resellers believe in the end goal.

Along with the product that is being offered, credible value is crucial. When approaching new markets, the fact that you are an unknown quantity can be overridden by a credible backing or recommendation. Your offering has to be well trusted on home turf before you can take it abroad. This talks to scalability and the safety of being able to address scale without roll out issues.

Connecting on the right platform

Blake has spent years building up his international contact list and nurturing these relationships, in order to establish the Blake Holdings brand on an international level. “We live in a digital age, so it is important to have a digital persona that people can trust and call upon for insight,” Blake explains, “This is best served on platforms like LinkedIn on a personal level and a web page on a product level.” These digital platforms serve as an avenue to connect the product with the overall vision, and to get that vision in front of the right people.

Heading abroad

Everyone needs to start somewhere. For Blake it was cold calling and a few key introductions. Attending international conventions is another great way to connect with possible stakeholders and like-minded people, but this can be tricky when a business is starting out.

Once the brand is established in its home country, business owners can start to investigate the possibility of taking the name to international conferences and conventions. “This is an essential part of your business if you’re hoping to diversify and grow internationally. Something I have been focusing on for the past 10 years,” Blake says. These opportunities are critical benchmarking opportunities to establish the international relevance of an offering and can determine whether or not these efforts are sustainable on an international level.

Ensuring international relevance is the next key step. Taking a business from a small startup in South Africa, to a thriving international metropolis requires forward thinking. Tailoring conversations and input to foreign markets will give a brand a voice, and with that voice comes buy in, trust and brand loyalty.

While social media platforms are an essential tool to stay top-of-mind and relevant, nothing beats a personal interaction between two like-minded business people. Using social media to share thoughts is a step in the right direction, but getting out there and building real human connections is vital to building a successful business, even in a largely digital world.


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