One of the most exciting times in any entrepreneur’s career is growing their business on a global scale. But all the hard work they put in during its early years can suddenly look easy compared to all the responsibilities of establishing their brand abroad. What’s more, some countries are more difficult to break into than others, requiring much more planning than initially expected.
Kuwait is one of these countries. The nation’s rocky history has seen it fall prey to a volatile financial market, but recent years have seen a dramatic turnaround in its fortunes. In fact, the government is planning on building a new city to address urban issues faced in the country, such as housing and traffic. Plans include a new airport, a free zone, an Olympic stadium, and a tower taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. These plans will not only benefit local communities, but also national and international entrepreneurs, providing them with increased opportunity to start a business in a new city.
But in order to get set up in Kuwait, there are a few things you will need to do first. From the initial approvals, to marketing planning there are some key facts you must take into consideration.
Understand the different business entities
Businesses in Kuwait are filed under the country’s commercial companies law (CCL), with foreign entrepreneurs only able to establish certain types of business:
Limited liability companies
Usually referred to as With Limited Liability (WLL), the closest UK equivalent would be private companies. They are not permitted to operate within the banking or insurance sectors, or as a pure investment fund, and the maximum shareholding by a non-Kuwaiti is 49%, unless approved otherwise by the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA).
A joint venture can be formed by at least two people, who are jointly and severally liable. These companies don’t have legal existence and do not need to be recorded by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Each partner in a joint venture, however, must be separately registered in their own names. These kinds of businesses are best suited for construction projects.
Foreign corporate bodies can only set up branches in Kuwait if they have permission from the KDIPA, otherwise, they should operate through shareholding or limited liability companies. Alternative options include running the business through a Kuwaiti commercial or service agent.
These companies can either be public or closed, but must be made up of at least five shareholders. Foreigners can be shareholders, but must only own a maximum of 49% of the company, collectively. Any founders are obliged to own at least 10% of the capital.
The two types of these companies are the simple limited partnership, which consists of joint liability members (general partners) and sleeping members (limited partners). The second type is the partnership limited by shares, which is a limited partnership where capital is divided into shares.
Complete thorough research into the new market
Expanding into a new market requires plenty of research. You may already have a detailed business plan, but Kuwait offers a brand new target audience that you may not fully understand.
The cultural differences between Kuwait and western countries are big enough that you will need to conduct thorough market research in order to guide your business plan. This includes research into your target market, distribution channels, established competitors, and marketing forms.
The culture is much more conservative than in many other major markets. The distinction between men and women is much stronger and more defined, so suggestive imagery for advertisements is strongly advised against. It’s also illegal to drink alcohol in Kuwait, so any marketing would need to avoid this.
Understanding your competition is important for businesses at any stage, but breaking into a new market brings its own complications to the process. For instance, competitors might be far better established in the community, which can make your entrance even more difficult. Analyse your business through factors like price and the services and products offered, as well as the market share and marketing strategies.
Management and workforce
Expanding your business overseas brings about a situation you may not have thought of—do you hire a brand new team in that country, or take existing employees who know your business to the new location? Both options have their own benefits and drawbacks. Hiring local employees ensures you have staff who are likely to understand your audience, as well as knowing the best way to conduct business in that country. However, they won’t have the background knowledge regarding your business that older team members may have.
Expats can certainly be beneficial as you first set up your company overseas, by helping to establish your company culture abroad, and assisting in the hiring and training of full-time Kuwaiti staff. However, you will need to consider employment and immigration laws and ensure your business abides by them. Expats will need written permission from the employer in Kuwait as well as a medical report in order to obtain a working visa to the country.
Develop a market entry strategy
Once you’ve completed your research, you can create and develop your entry strategy document, which will be your blueprint for how you run your company in Kuwait. This should clearly outline the research findings, goals, budget information, action items, and timelines. Your market and competitor research should highlight audience behaviour, as well as how your rivals are selling and promoting similar products. This allows you to decide on your specific entry points into the market.
The best strategy to connect with your new audience is through using specific marketing techniques. Localising your website, for example, makes it culturally and linguistically accessible, which will help you build a better, more stable relationship with your target audience from the start of their customer journey. Launching a Kuwait-specific website allows you to alter things like the layout and phrasing in a way that will resonate well with a Kuwaiti audience, without sacrificing the content or overall visual style of your existing website.