Boundaries come naturally to us. From childhood, we eagerly identify ourselves by the street we live on, by town or city, by state, by country. With rare exceptions, we don't play with kids from outside our neighborhood, or root from teams outside our state, or think very highly of those who didn't have the good sense to be born and raised where we were.
In many ways, the structure of the accounting profession reinforces that awareness of boundaries. In the U.S., the profession is licensed state by state to patrol accounting standards that are set at a national level and that change from country to country. It answers to regulators at a number of different levels, and earns a sizable portion of its fees helping businesses comply with rules set by different levels of government and in carefully delineated areas of tax jurisdiction. One of the most important skills that accountants can offer their clients is knowing what rules apply within which boundaries.
This is not a problem; in fact, in most cases it makes perfect sense to focus on the local, however you define it. Being close enough to meet face to face with your clients is a good thing, as is having a deep knowledge of your state's tax incentives, or its business regulations. Being strong within your boundaries is a good thing -- as long as it doesn't limit you to those boundaries.
The reason this matters is that, while your accounting practice is often delineated by jurisdictions, many of your clients' businesses are not. Machine tools and computer parts and software travel a lot better than tax returns and audits of U.S. GAAP, and more and more of your clients are discovering this as part of the sometimes-desperate scramble for profit unleashed by the recent economic unpleasantness. If they can't sell to their usual customers in the U.S., the modern web of air and sea links makes it easy to send goods around the world, while the modern Web makes it easy to find new customers in Germany or China or Africa. All but the most stubbornly local products (think haircuts and hot coffee) can be sent around the world, and all but the smallest of your business clients is now able to take advantage of this new globalization.
So U.S. businesses that previously would have been deemed too small to move abroad are searching out new markets around the world, even as foreign businesses seek out new markets in the U.S., whether in the automotive corridors of the South or among the tech players of Silicon Valley or the investment banks of New York. And as they come and go, crossing boundaries with abandon, they are discovering that they need the kinds of services they expect on a local basis from their accountants:How do we report this? Do we have to pay tax on this, and who to? Do we need a license for this? Can we hire part-time workers there?
Now, no accounting firm can know all the answers for the whole world. But any accounting firm should know how to find them. In some cases, it may be expertise the firm develops in-house or partners for; for instance, if you work with electronics developers, it may make sense to know something about the countries where they source their components. In other cases, your firm may need to join up with an international network or association, in order to be able to comfortably refer globetrotting clients to local expertise wherever they end up.
Just as this globalization is an opportunity for your clients, it's an opportunity for you and your firm -- an opportunity to deepen relationships with precisely the kind of growing clients you want to keep, while developing skills that can attract new ones.
All you need to do is to remember that being strong at home doesn't mean you never leave the house.
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