I have been very fortunate to travel to several countries of the world while on business - countries I may have never visited on a holiday. There are pros and cons to working/doing business in a foreign country vs. visiting as a tourist but I have found it to be very rewarding. I have made many friends, been invited into many colleagues' homes to meet their families, dined on local specialties, and seen all the local attractions (I've been to the Giza pyramids three times - see photo on the right) because business partners are always proud to show you their country. After all, don't we always take visitors to Alberta to the Rocky Mountains? Foreign business delegations traveling to Calgary always schedules time to go to Banff, often timing it to coincide with the weekend.
So even though I don't sell a product, I do consider myself an exporter. That is because I am exporting my experience and knowledge - basically I export a service. Many more Canadian service companies (and consultants), from environmental companies to engineering firms, could be exporting, but aren't.
Here are four ways to get started.
Consulting overseas is essentially exporting a service. For many Canadians the obvious first step is to examine the opportunities offered by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) - the executing agency of Canada's $2.87 billion aid program.
CIDA funds various development programs, some of which are administered and implemented directly by the recipient government and others by Canadian partners. In either case, experts are required for some aspect of the project. In my case, over the past year I have spent a total three months working in Indonesia providing export-related technical assistance to garment manufacturers in Bali.
To work with CIDA, all consultants must be registered with Consulting and Audit Canada. However, CIDA does not directly contact everyone and therefore it is useful to know the partners that cooperate with CIDA, and luckily a list of non-governmental organizations (NGO) is available on the CIDA web site (type 'voluntary sector division' in the search box, choose the first result and then click on 'Links to CIDA's partners').
CIDA also publishes a list of all its current bilateral projects which includes the name of the primary partner organization, the value of the project and time remaining. You may be able to offer your services to these organizations. From CIDA's home page, click on 'Projects' and then 'CIDA's contracts and agreements.'
Once you have gained experience working with CIDA, many international financial institutions such as the World Bank also hire consulting firms to plan, manage and evaluate their projects. For example, right now there is an Expression of Interest for a "Country Environmental Analysis" for Vietnam. It also helps to cultivate contacts within the World Bank as contracts under $100,000 are not publicly posted.
Even if you are not in the "development" business, think about what expertise you can offer to other countries.
2. Partner Overseas.
Very few companies are successful overseas if they do not have a local partner, regardless of whether they are selling a product or a service. The format of a partnership in services exporting (i.e. joint-venture, strategic alliance, equity agreement) is not necessarily the prime consideration but the Canadian company must take the time to determine what they need and want from their foreign partner. Someone to identify and pursue leads? Labour to undertake certain aspects of the project? Administrative assistance? Insight into local laws and customs? Language support? Competitive intelligence? The Canadian partner also needs to consider what they bring to the partnership. New technology? Expertise? Financing?
CIDA has funding available for Canadian firms developing partnerships in developing countries under its Industrial Cooperation Program.
Do you have a unique technology in demand overseas but are reluctant to start exporting? Don't assume all of the responsibility yourself - find a local partner and reap the benefits.
3. Network Locally.
This method for entering new markets is probably one of the most overlooked, despite its low risk. Every Canadian company working overseas is outsourcing some aspect of the project, usually to someone they know and trust - often one of their domestic suppliers. For example, most Canadian oil and gas companies have operations overseas as well - often in remote areas that require housing and catering. Rather than relying on local capabilities, they generally contract their camp services to well known Canadian firms, thus ensuring the comfort of their workers - because a camp full of unhappy and miserable oil rig workers is not a good thing!
Take a look at your current clients and see if any of them are doing business overseas.
Everyone is aware of the opportunities to teach English overseas, which is what my sister is doing right now in South Korea (see photo at left). She signed her contract through a Toronto-based agency which is essentially exporting her knowledge of English and Canada (she has actually sung O'Canada to a room full of junior high kids, with no accompaniment!). At the post-secondary level, countries that are rapidly expanding their education systems are demanding skilled teachers and partnerships with foreign institutions in all professions. China and the United Arab Emirates are two that come to mind. However, it is not only within the formal education system that teaching and training opportunities emerge. The same issue of Canadian Business that printed my exporting advice (June 6 - 19, 2005) features a scantily clad model on its cover (I guess sex sells even business magazines) with the line, "The Business of Becoming China's Top Model." After four years of working in China, where white skin is highly valued (and here in North America millions are spent on tanning lotions and tanning salons - go figure), Canadian model Tracey Grebinsky is working with a local talent agency to: 1) train Western models about the complexities of working in China, and; 2) educate Chinese firms about the business of modelling (i.e. contracts, choosing a "look", working with agencies, etc).
Re-evaluate whether you have an exportable service. I'm a big believer that almost anything can be exported.
So pack your bags and get ready for an international adventure.
About the Author
Cheryl Lockhart of International Strategies Ltd. assists small- to medium-sized enterprises navigate the complexities of global business development. Services include international project identification and management, market research and foreign partner development. To learn more about exporting and read additional FREE e-zines, visit http://www.intl-strategies.com<
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