[IMGCAP(1)]Earning new business is more challenging than ever and firms need new ways to increase revenue, so is going global a possible path to new revenue?
Perhaps, but global expansion also complicates firm management—adding complexities that can jeopardize profits. To help ensure profitable global growth, consider a few tips to help make your firm’s direct or indirect global expansion a rewarding endeavor.
1. Investigate: Throwing a dart at a map may lead to an interesting honeymoon, but to find the most likely (and serviceable) global revenue, start at the intersection of opportunity and expertise. Opportunities can be found by taking a deep look into your firm’s history: Which clients have global locations and might need services there? Which past proposals or engagements had global requirements? Find expertise by evaluating your talent: What language skills or global accounting expertise already exist? Who has worked overseas or for perhaps a Big Four-type global organization? Ideally, your practice management and resource systems can expose these answers, and identify common ground between global client needs (past or present) and existing knowledge or skills. Among the geographies that most frequently emerge lie the ideal locations for global expansion.
2. Collaborate: The cost and complexity of opening an overseas entity is daunting. Instead of directly establishing an office, hiring staff and building a clientele, gain momentum and reduce risk by teaming with an existing accounting alliance with an international focus. While there are several to choose from, it is best to start off by investigating what each has to offer by way of international referral networks, technology and best practices. An alliance allows your firm to claim in-country expertise and gain market knowledge, while relying on local partners to deliver the work. Go beyond the basic alliance fundamentals of partner reputation and philosophical alignment: Establish shared control over each engagement. Your involvement ensures client satisfaction, and your visibility nurtures your firm’s understanding of local requirements for when you’re ready to go direct. Such collaborative control means shared access to client, job and financial data, so make sure your practice management system can easily on-board alliance partners, and grant them appropriate, secure access to update engagement information, client details or billing data.
3. Communicate: Firms considering global expansion can’t underestimate the importance of effective communication. Consider two forms: local communication among clients and business partners, and internal communication between the local operation and “home office.” Local communication means exactly what you’d expect: staffing the new office with native speakers to work directly with local clients, government entities or business partners. Effective internal communication is all about infrastructure. When the time and distance between your global entity and the home office makes direct communication difficult, an information-sharing platform helps disconnected staff members work together easily. Modern approaches suitable for a global enterprise go beyond mere file-sharing by incorporating discussion threads, assignments and task deadlines. Imagine a communications platform that enables daylong work on an engagement in China, with comments or questions attached throughout the day ready for review as the U.S. team starts and the China team leaves. Instead of cumbersome communications delays, have an efficient 24-hour operation!
4. Automate: Global expansion brings revenue opportunities, but also costly complexity to firm administration. Managing multiple currencies, intercompany billing, global time-tracking or complicated client invoicing are but a few of the added challenges which left unchecked may need dedicated staff to effectively manage. Why not look to technology to streamline these processes? In addition to bringing your firm global consistency and worldwide operations discipline, an effective practice management system simplifies much of the back-office financial complexity. To avoid unnecessary manual steps or external work in Excel spreadsheets, make sure your practice management system is sufficiently global—able to segment services or resources into distinct global entities, work in multiple languages, convert currencies and invoice accurately based on local requirements or client preferences.
It’s a big world full of growth opportunities. In today’s competitive domestic environment, why not look overseas to bring more revenue to the firm, more services to clients and more profit to the partners? Follow these steps to get started on a path to profitable global growth.
Drew West is the director of marketing for Deltek, a leading provider of enterprise software and information solutions for professional services firms and government contractors. With headquarters in Herndon, Va., the company has more than 1,600 employees worldwide.