Voices

Is international expansion in your firm’s future?

Smart firms are always looking for ways to expand their footprint and offer expanded or additional services that will allow them to reach new audiences and become more valuable to their current roster of clients – and more and more firms are looking at offering international services as a way to expand.

The internet and social media have made it incredibly easy to have conversations in real time with people on the other side of the world. These same technological advances make it much less painful to serve clients beyond your own geographic borders.

“In some cases, firms are forced into providing international work, because their existing clients expand overseas or need help with a repatriation calculation,” said David Springsteen, partner-in-charge of tax at Top 100 Firm Withum and chairman of HLB International’s Tax Committee. “But even if that isn’t the case, the world is getting smaller, travel is much easier, and technology allows for excellent communication channels.”

For those firms that want to actively pursue an international niche, there are a few ways to get started. “The easiest way is for firms to utilize their global network of advisors and get to know their counterparts in other countries,” Springsteen said. “Another option for smaller firms is to hook up with larger firms with international capabilities until they get to the size to recruit a specialist to lead this area.”

In some cases, there may be opportunities right under your nose. “Firms should evaluate the team they have already. Many have younger staff with some international experience, that studied abroad, or may originally be from another country,” said international business consultant Gail Rockburne, president of Global Sales Growth. “Sometimes the easiest way to expand to new markets could be through employees you already have.”

When it comes to services in high demand, Springsteen sees two primary areas. “There are unique compliance issues where many people and businesses need assistance. U.S. citizens and residents must report their foreign bank and investment accounts, or they can suffer heavy fines. This also applies to those that inherit money or shares of an overseas business,” he explained. “Additionally, many businesses need help planning and structuring their business to legitimately do business in other countries, so they are not hit with double taxes or other unexpected issues. Offering this type of help can be invaluable to some of your current clients and help you attract new ones.”

Like any new venture, challenges exist, particularly when it comes to cultural issues. Business is conducted differently depending on the country, so understanding these cultural norms is vital to making the necessary connections and developing relationships. For example, in some situations, it is considered rude to discuss your personal life in business settings. In others, you never discuss business the first (or sometime second and third) time you meet. “It is humbling to make a faux pas as you enter new markets. But depending on the circumstances, one brash blunder can abruptly end any chance of future business,” Rockburne warned.

One thing that proves true across all borders is a desire for authenticity. “You can’t fake it! If you aren’t genuine, people will see right through you. However, if you can help someone with no strings attached, you will prove your worth and value and build the trust that you desire,” Rockburn said. “It is all about the personal relationship. If they like you as a person, they are much more likely to do business with you.”

For those who have an idea of the country or countries where they want to focus their efforts, there are a variety of ways to learn about the business culture. “If there are consulates or binational chambers of commerce in your area, attend events and get to know the leaders of these organizations. Read online publications that give you insight into what is going on in the areas you want to pursue. I even suggest that you visit the country and observe the people. You’ll learn more from a visit than all the books in the world,” Rockburne explained.

Adding these services is a bit more complicated than some others and moving into the area requires a commitment. “You need to do it correctly and empower someone to focus on the business development, niche leadership and technical talent,” Springsteen warned. “You can’t dabble in it.”

But if you do it correctly, a whole new world of opportunities awaits your firm.