If you’re looking to expand your business, your options aren’t limited to growing your geographic footprint in the UK. There are plenty of green pastures to see just across the channel. We spoke to Matt Davies of Direct Rail, who says that while with new opportunities come new challenges, a bit of forward planning you can find mark the beginning of a prosperous new era for your company.

Why expand into Europe?

Why even bother though? The answer is simple- the European Union is one of the biggest markets on the planet, accounting for more than a quarter of the global GDP in 2010. The continent is the world’s biggest exporter of goods and services and the biggest importer of crucial trade fundamentals.

“As a British company you are in an excellent position to take advantage of the EU’s single market set up and the emphasis on the free movement of people and goods between the European Union’s member states,” Davies explains. “So that this massive market is ripe for the picking. However, there are no guarantees, and in making the transformation to an international business there are a number of new pitfalls ahead.”

Keeping up with the technology

This means that the first thing you’ll need to do is look at the technology you’re using. If you’re going to have your business operating on both sides of the channel then it’s absolutely essential that all parts of your business are well connected.

“Operating across the continent we’ve found that cloud computing is vital,” he adds. “It enables our people in various separate locations to have instant access to the latest information from anywhere in the business, which can often mean the difference between success and catastrophe!”

Different legal and administrative environments

As well as looking at your technological and communication tools, you’re also going to need to be aware of the legal context you’re working in. The EU’s long term goal is to create a legal environment that is consistent throughout the union for businesses, but that’s the future, right now the EU is made up of 28 member states, each with their own governments, laws, traditions and cultures, and your business will have to be equally effective and compliant in all of them.

Look carefully at what your business is doing, and which aspects of your work will fall under international treaties such as those of the World Trade Organisation and which will come entirely under each country’s domestic laws. Failure to do your research can cause problems for even the largest businesses, as Google and Facebook have found out with their loud and public clashes with Germany’s strict personal privacy laws.

When in Rome

However, beyond the legal implications, you also need to be very aware of the culture that you will now be working in. “The 500 million EU citizens have 23 official languages between them, as well as a vast list of regional dialects,” Davies says. “You’re going to have to make sure that any copy or instructional materials you create are readable by your target audience. Keep all this in mind, and Europe is rife with opportunity.”