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Think before you fly

Market development is a long term strategy, not something you can fix on a flying visit, says Ross Sturley

Life's hard at the moment, it must be, even the big money machine that is volume housebuilding has gone belly up. Lots of you are looking outside your usual customers to make up any slack and keep your business growing - very sensible.

But there are problems in that strategy - if diversification means you want to pick up a few public sector deals, then you either should have been working on them for a couple of years, or be prepared to wait a while for a new one to come off. Basically, if you're not already building schools, you're not going to get going on one this year.

So how about overseas? A lot has been said of late about getting involved in "accelerating markets" - in the last week I have seen one respected commentator suggesting Albania as a profitable destination for UK companies, and the top analyst at a very large consultant pointing at Korea, Brazil and India.

The latter did at least point out that Russia was as "risky" in a business sense as Iraq and Afghanistan. Sage advice, if staying alive and getting paid are among your business goals this year.

There is great danger in the rush to develop new markets - yes, companies whose revenues come from a spread of geographies and property asset classes tend to be more robust.

Immunity from localised recession is a good thing. But it takes skill and time to build sustainable business in a new sector or country, and you must do it properly. Market research will build understanding. Local partners will help you avoid 'foreigner traps', I could go on.

Market development is a long term strategy, not a short term fix - there is a best way to work and hopping on the first easyjet flight to Tirana with some blank contracts is not it.

Ross Sturley is Principal of Chart Lane and a Member of the CIMCIG organising Committee