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Crossing borders: What you need to know about service export

By Andrea Danelak, Special to WEOC

It’s official: Your business has grown to the point where you’re ready to expand internationally.

As businesses seek new opportunities, export may be a viable expansion option. While product-based entrepreneurs eyeing a new cross-border market need to navigate everything from packaging requirements to customs procedures, those exporting services face their own considerations.

We spoke to two entrepreneurs on the other side of the border to gain insights into the nuances of export.

Dr. Sarah Skidmore is the chief executive officer of Skidmore Consulting / The Leadership Hospital, which provides leadership training, leader development and consulting services to businesses worldwide. Headquartered in Florida, it has served the Canadian market for most of its five years in business. She advises entrepreneurs to think through three steps before offering services in another country.

First, understand the pain points and challenges your prospects may be experiencing. “If you don’t start with that, it doesn’t matter what country you’re considering,” she says. “There has to be a need for it, and it doesn’t matter what type of service it is.” In The Leadership Hospital’s case, Canadian organizations have found value in their hybrid and remote work leadership development program.

Next, understand the value of the service(s) you offer and the impact of your solution. “Once those two pieces are clear, identify those avenues to be able to connect with the people who are having the pains and challenges and need the solutions that you offer,” says Skidmore, who participated in the WEOC 2022 panel webinar on Women’s Entrepreneurship and Supplier Diversity in the U.S.

3 helpful steps to exporting your services

Diving deeper, we’ve outlined three helpful steps to smoothly export your services to a new country.

1.    Engage in reflection and research.

Skidmore recommends that businessowners understand their motivations for entering a new market. “You can have all the desire in the world [but if it’s not well thought-out], it’s likely not going to be effective.”

Developing a stakeholder analysis and conducting research can help you understand a new market. “Do you have alignment with that country—not only from your organization’s value perspective and what you’re trying to do, but also [on a personal level]?” says Skidmore.

“It’s also important to do your due diligence and look at the competition,” adds Kaila Piepkow, who offers branding consulting via her Michigan-based company Your Branding Buddy, after founding a successful design studio (now under new ownership).

2.    Connect with potential clients.

For Piepkow, building relationships through social media has been paramount in gaining international clients from Canada to Belgium to the Philippines.

“When I started Dox Design, I didn’t think we would get clients outside the U.S. But then we niched down [to the pet industry], which transcends all languages and countries—everyone loves dogs!” she says. “Social media is a great tool for connecting people; sometimes, you don’t realize you’re talking to someone in another country. Once I had one or two Canadian or international clients under my belt, it was easy to [expand from there] through word of mouth when people saw our work.”

On top of social media, in-person networking is critical. Through her new brand, Piepkow often books speaking engagements at conferences and exhibitions that, though based in the U.S., attract entrepreneurs and organizations from around the world with whom she can connect.

Skidmore and her team focus on networking at the macro level, partnering with associations and leveraging those platforms to connect with folks. “The other important piece is allowing time for the relationships to form,” she says.

3.    Master the fine details.

When exporting your services, it’s essential to consider logistical factors like working with different payment methods or taking cultural differences or language nuances into account.

“Be open with your clients,” says Piepkow. “If they know they’re hiring someone from [another country], they know some things [may not translate]. I always have a back-and-forth with each client to be aware of anything I should consider or stay away from.” By reflecting on your motivations, conducting audience and market research, understanding your value and potential impact, and connecting with potential clients, entrepreneurs can lay a solid foundation for growth on both sides