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Lessons I’ve Learned from Running a Business in LATAM as an Australian

As an Australian entrepreneur with business ventures in a number of countries, making the move to Latin America was perhaps the best decision I ever made. A flight from Sydney to Mexico City will take 19 hours and cover more than 8,000 miles, but I didn’t let distance stop me from entering into the region […]

As an Australian entrepreneur with business ventures in a number of countries, making the move to Latin America was perhaps the best decision I ever made. A flight from Sydney to Mexico City will take 19 hours and cover more than 8,000 miles, but I didn’t let distance stop me from entering into the region to exploit its opportunities and utilize its talented workforce.

Below, I share some of the lessons I learned from running a business in Latin America as an Australian, and offer some words of wisdom for entrepreneurs considering doing the same…

Incorporating Isn’t All That Different

One of the most common questions I’m asked is whether setting up a business in Latin America is different from forming a company in Australia, and the truth is that there’s more in common between the two nations than you might think. Naturally, you’ll have to get to grips with local business law and perhaps enlist the help of a local business expert or team who can guide you through the process (especially if you don’t know the language), but in short, it’s pretty straightforward to incorporate a business in virtually every LATAM country.

Many of the legal compliance requirements in Australia are the same when entering into Latin American countries too; you’ll need to keep ahold of your financial records, disclose your directors (although there are ways around this with the right company structure) and pay the necessary fees before you can sign up. You must also keep all of your information up to date and take responsibility for that – hiring a bookkeeper makes sense, as there are penalties for businesses who do not pay on time or make mistakes when reporting returns.

As is the case in virtually every jurisdiction nowadays, you must also take on the responsibility of handling your customers’ data sensitively, so that personal information does not enter into the wrong hands, so invest in technology and security to avoid fines.

You Don’t Have to Spend a Fortune

When I first made the move to Latin America, I had a limited budget and didn’t want to rely on bank loans or external funding to get my business off the ground. One of the reasons why many entrepreneurs choose not to go global is because they’re concerned it’s going to cost them a fortune – and in many cases, spending without a guarantee of a return is simply too much of a risk. I’m not saying that you’re going to be able to set up a new business and find clients overnight if you’ve only got $5,000 in your account, but what I am saying is that it’s very possible to run a business in Latin America on a shoestring budget. That’s what I did!

The cost of labor in Latin America is much cheaper than it is in Australia – the average accountant will take home around AU$56,247, whereas in Mexico, a senior accountant will earn on average around MXN 351,273 per year (around AU$26,000), but outsourcing and relying on freelancers in the gig community can bring this down even further, especially if you are considering incorporating via a virtual office to reduce running costs during your startup.

Transferrable Business Skills

Prior to running a business in Latin America, I spent time serving in the Australian military, and the lessons I learned from the front line have been vital to my success as an entrepreneur. One lesson I’ve learned from transferring my knowledge from Australia to LATAM markets is that business knowledge and expertise is universal – whatever industry you have operated in and whatever country you made your start, you’ve got the tools and the knowledge to make a success in Latin America. Of course, you’ll need to pick up business etiquette (which varies from country to country and is not always as laid-back as it is in Australia) and you’ll need to learn the language (although most LATAM citizens in business circles speak English, it’s good to speak in their native tongue to build upon relationships).

Don’t let the fear of expanding into a new market hold you back. Take what you know about your industry on home turf, assess demand and your competition in Latin America, and go for it: if you don’t, the chances are that one of your competitors will take your space quickly.

LATAM Countries Have a Lot Going for Them

It’s easy to underestimate the power of Latin America, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the territory and have instead been focusing your attention on markets like Europe, Asia, and the United States. Before founding my own business, I spent a lot of time working in countries such as Colombia and Peru, and quickly realized the opportunities for Western businesses.

As markets like the UK, the US, and Asia become more uncertain, turning to LATAM makes a lot of sense. Mexico, for example, is the second-strongest in Latin America (behind Brazil, which has a GDP of US$3,524,064 million) and offers some real potential for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Indeed, research suggests that Mexico’s GDP per capita will overtake all but three EU countries by 2050, making the country the world’s eighth largest economy.

With growing levels of disposable income and an affluent middle class, incorporating a business in Mexico is not a bad idea. What’s more, Mexico boasts more free trade agreements than any other country in the world, so whether you’re exporting manufactured goods to markets like the EU and the United States, or you’re looking to sell software to companies around the world, it’s all possible by building a base in Mexico. Tech staffers are also more affordable.

Finding the Right Staff is Critical

Finally, I’d like to give a quick mention to finding staff. If  I could only tell myself one thing before starting a business abroad, it would be to invest in talented, experienced, and passionate staff from day one. When you move to the other side of the world to work on your business, it can be pretty tough to stay motivated and positive when working alone. Hiring experts not only takes some of the weight off of your shoulders and eases the burden of your workload, but it allows you to maximize growth and really make your mark in the region. What’s more, by hiring local staff, you’ll appear to be more established than other international businesses, and you can utilize their local market expertise to plug the knowledge gaps you’re missing.

I’m not saying that launching a business in LATAM is easy or that you’ll become a millionaire overnight, but the region is ripe for investment and innovation, and with the right product and strategy, you’re bound to be successful. Whatever you get up to, I wish you the best of luck.

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