Whether you’re just contemplating going global for the first time, or have been doing business in international markets for years, we all have questions. Exporting is a complicated business. A myriad of details and skillsets have to come together to make it a success.
To help set you on the road to success, we gave you an opportunity to ask three expert CITPs all of your biggest questions about taking your business international in a Facebook Live event. We heard questions on common errors, biggest lessons learned, cultural faux pas, how to ensure you get paid, customs regulations, ecommerce and everything in between.
If you missed the live event, it’s not too late to get in on the learning! Check out the video below or read the recap. And let us know if you have a questions that didn’t make it to the live event.
Jamie Huget, CITP – Trade Commissioner (Iran, UAE), Global Affairs Canada
Megan Malone, CITP – Senior Associate (ICT Sector), Export Development Canada
Justin Archambault, CITP – Executive Director, Bluecrown International Strategies
Leigh-Ann Redmond, Director of Digital Marketing, Forum for International Trade Training (FITT)
Why was it important to get your international business experience certified?
Jamie Huget, CITP: In any profession certification helps you to move forward and gain credibility. More than just having a business degree, international business takes a certain skillset. It’s only natural for the business community, academic community, and the industry, to want to somehow recognize the people who have the credentials and skillsets that allow you to be so successful in international trade.
Megan Malone, CITP: After getting the designation, what I asked my colleagues at EDC was “why do people recognize the CITP designation? Why do we recruit people with that designation?”, and they said:
It’s one thing to do a business degree, but if you have a real interest in trade, it’s great if you can actually focus your studies on just international trade.
Getting the business education and administration training under your belt is helpful, but international trade uses a whole different language, a whole different series of skills and knowledge that comes with it. People that devote their education and time to certification in international trade can prove that they know those skills and how to speak that language, and they’re aware of cultural nuances and things that you might not learn in other more general business programs.
Justin Archambault, CITP: The FITTskills courses teach you how to conduct business, but also give you an overall grasp of what it takes to succeed in the field of international trade. Having the CITP designation reflects that you’ve achieved a certain point and it’s the equivalent of when a doctor attaches “MD” to the end of their name. It instills trust and confidence in people when they look at you and think, “since this person is a CITP they know what they’re talking about”, and it lends a lot of credibility in the field as well. It opens doors, and it’s a requirement at various trade-focused organizations. For anyone in the private sector that wishes to take it to that next level and scale their own abilities in this field, this is really the highest pinnacle of certification among trade professionals, not just in Canada but worldwide.
What was one of the biggest learning experiences you’ve had to date in your career?
JA: When you’re proactive with your cultural knowledge it really does open doors. It facilitates a lot of positive business dealings when the other side can look at you and say, “they understand us, they speak our language and they know how things are done. And they care.” I don’t think you can underestimate that. It’s a dealmaker or a deal-breaker. I can think of so many examples of people committing a cultural faux pas and that is it – deal-breaker! But when you’re able to put yourself in your client’s shoes and demonstrate that you’ve taken the initiative to get to the root of what their culture is, it makes a huge difference. Companies say, “Let’s go with them because they’re easy to deal with.”
JH: Business is all about relationships and talking to each other. With the FITTskills training you aren’t necessarily given a blueprint for what to do in every situation, but it gives you the tools to go through the thought process, how to analyze, be flexible and react in these various situations. People who have gone through the program know how to prepare so that they don’t get caught in these situations. They know what questions to ask and what research to do ahead of time.
As businesses move online, what regulations do they need to know about when they’re opening an ecommerce shop in international markets?
MM: At EDC we have a team called Export Help that’s there to answer these types of questions. I know this is something that we get asked a lot, and the Trade Commissioner Service has a guide on ecommerce online especially as it relates to China because that’s one of the biggest markets and biggest competitors for ecommerce. Shopify also has quite a bit of material to help companies enter the ecommerce market. I suggest that you reach out to these resources that are available to you and have that information. That’s a good start to learning these nuances.
What are some common errors people make when entering a new international market?
JA: You can’t enter a new market assuming what works in one market works in another.
MM: Even when you go into the U.S. for Canadian companies – the U.S. market is so different from Canada in many ways. That’s a common mistake.
JA: And those differences are vast when you get out of North America. There are a lot of similarities, but a heck of a lot more differences. You have to watch the type of marketing you do, and even do your due diligence on any potential partner or distributor or agent you’ll have to deal with. Make sure everything aligns and everything is done perfectly before jumping in, because even the smallest thing could be a disaster.
MM: You should also make sure you understand your competitors in your target market. Take advantage of those resources we mentioned that are available to you, but also look at other companies who have done something similar to you and get in touch with them. So many clients I’ve spoken to have said that having that one person they could connect with and share ideas with helped guide them and bridge that gap a little bit sooner.
With all of the rapid changes in trade policy how do you stay on top of regulations and mitigate the risks?
MM: Leverage your network, trade advisors and the online resources available to you. Read the news and trade publications like Exportwise, CanadExport and TradeReady.ca, too.
Risk mitigation often comes down to diversification. A lot of companies are afraid to go to areas they aren’t familiar with and stick to the ones they know.
There are a lot of areas around the world – for example Southeast Asia has tremendous growth rates at this point, Africa has a lot of opportunities. Canadian companies really need to diversify their portfolios by location and not be afraid to look into emerging markets.
MM: There are lots of products available that can help companies mitigate their risks in new markets. There’s always the risk that you won’t get paid so there are things like credit insurance, there’s political risk insurance so that when you’re going into these markets that may be unstable or where things could change rapidly, you’re protected.
What about start-ups who are entering new markets with a different level of budget and experience?
JH: It used to be that the traditional business model was you get your backing and make sure your domestic sales are in order before you attempt to go overseas. But we’re seeing companies now who are setting up and have no intention of even selling in their domestic market, it just happens to be where they’re operating from. No matter what type of business or what size you are, it’s equally important to build those same networks and come up with those same market entry strategies.
MM: There are so many start-up resources, especially for those in the tech sector, such as incubators and accelerator programs, and those entities are really well connected to global networks as well. By going through a start-up program, you get connected to all these different partners and players and services. A lot of start-ups are also primarily online and don’t necessarily think of themselves as exporters, especially if they are a service provider or software company. But the important thing to realize is that the minute your customer is outside of your home market you are exporting. It’s not necessarily where your product is but where your customer is located that defines you as an exporter in those cases. Just because you are a start-up doesn’t eliminate you from those exporting opportunities and resources that are available.
How can you make sure that you get paid in a foreign market?
MM: Credit insurance is there exactly for this. Whether you get it from EDC or through the private sector, credit insurance is by definition insurance that ensures you get paid. At EDC, we always investigate the credit risk of a company before we approve covering you. So, if we see a red flag on a company we will suggest you either demand payment upfront or don’t do business with them.
JH: You never want it to get that far where you’ve delivered a product or service and don’t receive your payment. Just like anything else, that’s why you get the insurance to protect yourself in case something goes wrong.
Insurance is there to protect you, but at the end of the day the onus is on the company to do that due diligence.
Insurance is a tool but you certainly shouldn’t be using it for every single transaction you do when you go abroad.
How should SMEs decide what services and skillsets to outsource vs bring in-house?
JA: It starts with what competencies already exist in an organization. It really comes down to your strengths and weaknesses. You can do a SWOT analysis of yourself and your company and figure out what you need somebody else to do for you.
MM: There are also lots of free online resources out there to help you with things like managing your social media, marketing, CRM, so do a bit of digging to see what you can find for free.
How can companies protect their intellectual property abroad?
JA: Register and trademark your products before even going into different markets. Business name registration, domain name registration, get everything in there. It may cost you a little bit but at least you’ll have some recourse in those other markets. On a larger scale there’s always a point of contention in free trade agreements like NAFTA and CETA when it comes to intellectual property rights. Companies can take the initiative through lobby groups to fight for inclusion of intellectual property rights in these agreements.
JH: It’s really important to know who you’re selling to and how they’re going to use your product or service. For SMEs that are in the early planning stages, when you’ve got that grandiose idea that’s going to change the world, you’ve got to be forward thinking. Think about which markets this product will be most successful in three to five years from now and plan ahead to mitigate any possible risks, because it’s a lot easier to do that earlier on. Most SMEs can’t afford to protect their product globally, so they do need to pick and choose the best markets and do that analysis.
How should businesses plan their supply chains? Is it best to work with freight forwarders and consultants?
JH: We have to look at supply chains as a whole. The idea is to find the weak spots that can have the biggest impact and try to strengthen those up. There’s no formula that applies to all companies. A good place to start is to look and see what your competitors are doing.
Being competitive relies on market intelligence and knowing where the markets are shifting. A lot of those insights will come from your own customers.
Get feedback from them and they will let you know what they like about what others are doing; faster delivery, offering in-house financing, training, etc.
JA: It’s so important to identify and address any inefficiencies. Often a third-party service can help you with that. If you can get an expert to handle it you’ll really make your entire supply chain more efficient.
JH: Just as you would for your household expenses when you look at your insurance bill, cable bill, and find ways to pay less, small businesses need to take the time every so often to look at all who they’re using to ship their products abroad and figure out if they can get a better deal.
JA: You should also look at the failure rate for all of your service providers. Are your products arriving undamaged, on time? Is there a mechanism in place to ensure that they are being delivered as expected? There does need to be a periodic review to make sure that you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
What is the most common question you get about international trade?
MM: For a lot of businesses it can be overwhelming to just get started. We are lucky in Canada that there are so many resources available to businesses looking to export – almost too many. It’s easy to get analysis paralysis. Knowing who to go to and where to get started is key. The advice I would give is to start with one, whether it’s the TCS, EDC, or a consultant, it’s our job to direct you from there and connect you with other partners.
JH: In Canada there are so many government resources – federal, provincial, municipal – so as a small business you need to figure out what you’re going to focus on. Often, I’ll get a call from a business saying “I just got a call from a potential customer in such-and-such country, how do I go about shipping to them?” What you’ve got to ask yourself is, am I taking the shotgun approach? Small business has to focus and be prepared to turn down some of these potential opportunities because they may be more work than they’re worth, and they can lead you into this dark cave of uncertainty about what you need to do. It all goes back to your business plan and your marketing plan. If a market doesn’t fit into your plan, then maybe you need to either reconsider your plan or evaluate the opportunity, and possibly turn it down.
Can certification like CIFFA, CITP, PLog, really help me get a job or project? Do companies really care or is the focus more on experience?
JA: Experience in any job goes a long way. The CITP designation is certainly a tremendous asset. In my experience I found that when I deal with clients, when they see CITP in my title beside my name they will take me a lot more seriously.
MM: Yes! Having a certification in what you’re passionate about or the field that you’re operating in definitely gives you more credibility. By having a certification in that field you’ve proven that:
A – you’re passionate about it because you took the time and put in the effort to learn about it and get certified. It’s the same as an accounting designation or any other professional certification.
And B – that you’re a reliable and credible professional in that field.
JH: I see it as two things: That you have that knowledge and skillset. And what’s often overlooked is that it’s like belonging to a secret club. You’ve got that group now that you can network with and ask a question. When you meet another CITP you automatically know what you have in common, and it’s a valuable network for this industry. That might be the most important aspect of obtaining a designation.
Missed your chance to ask the experts a live question? Submit it in the comments below!