Let go of what you know

Source: Trends (25/05/2017); Author: Veroniek Collewaert

We often hear that Belgians tend to stick to their roots, and that might just be true. After all, many of us live and work close to the place where we were born and raised. The same goes for entrepreneurs, and not only in Belgium. International research has shown that when deciding where to set up their business, entrepreneurs focus more on things like being close to friends and family than on looking for the location that would guarantee the best results for their company.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. Solid local roots can contribute to higher profits and a better chance of survival. After all, you know the area and the opportunities it has to offer. Haven’t we all, at some point, discovered a product abroad and thought, “Why don’t we have this at home?”. It can also be easier to tap into financing or find employees to put your idea into practice, because there is a greater chance that you will get useful recommendations through the local grapevine.

Tapping into the unknown can have great benefits!

That said, should we all stay close to home? Certainly not! Tapping into the unknown can really benefit a person. Discovering everything on your own, without anyone you know to pick you up when you fall, makes you more independent.

In April, I visited the Stanford campus with our Vlerick students as part of our Silicon Valley Disruption Tour. I still vividly remember the crossroads where, ten years earlier, I had stopped on my bicycle, holding the campus map, to look for the Business School building (no, my female orientation skills were not to blame!). Granted, I did feel helpless for a minute, but it encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and speak to strangers. I was amazed to find out how helpful the average person can be. Such experiences make you more socially and culturally sensitive too. It can be really daunting to hear people around you speak a language you don’t know. Not to mention how hard it is to make new friends, discover new customs and explore a whole new world. It is all one big adventure, an adventure that requires a certain degree of eagerness to learn and openness that I sometimes fail to see in my Belgian students.
This same approach tends to apply to entrepreneurs too. Broadening your horizon for a bit gives you a chance to see how other people do things, and to discover and make the most of new technologies and opportunities. And of course it allows you to discover new sales markets as well. But there is no need to pack up your bags and move abroad. Many organisations, like Flanders Investment & Trade and the Belgian Chamber of Commerce, will gladly help you look into the different possibilities in various countries. Just like when you set up a new company, you should take things one step at a time. You need to experiment, quickly learn from those experiments and change course if necessary. This will allow you to get an idea fairly quickly of which markets have potential and how to tap into them. And since Belgium is a relatively small sales market, entrepreneurs with healthy growth ambitions definitely do need to look further than the end of their noses.

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