Is Your Accounting Business Ready for the International Market?

For the ambitious accountant, the idea of making it big on the global stage can produce an intoxicating mix of drive, innovation and willingness to push boundaries. After all, who doesn’t want to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, known and respected around the world for building truly world-class organizations from scratch?

“International” is sometimes dismissed simply as just another market or the “next place” to go after getting established in the United States. However, the reality is much more complex. The United States – despite its immense economic presence – is just one of 255 sovereign nations and dependent territories, each with its own legal, business, language and cultural idiosyncrasies.

However, before you rush out and set up that service office in London or Tokyo, take a deep breath and consider if this is really where you should be focusing your time and energy at this stage of your company’s development.

Understand your Objectives

Always start with an honest assessment of why you want to expand internationally:

  • What is the real lure of the global market?
  • Is it an economic necessity or a requirement to demonstrate the maximum possible market opportunity to investors?
  • Is it a competitive step designed to keep your business ahead of the pack?
  • Are you supporting customers who are taking your business global?
  • Do you want to lead a global company and to see the world as your business grows?

Whatever the driver, you must have a clear, objective vision before taking the leap to international business.

You also must realize that working internationally is going to take far more time and energy than you think to determine where to expand and to create a plan that will ensure your success. Make sure you are you the right person to lead the charge, be aware that it might deflect attention from running your existing business and know the consequences if it does. If you think it is going to affect your service delivery to your U.S. clients, consider, for example, outsourcing to a firm that can help you determine where and how to position your business internationally. This may require significant investment and even a financial loss if you ultimately decide not to proceed.

Know Your New Target Market

Understanding the core dynamics of your initial target market is always essential. Is English the primary language, meaning there are fewer cultural barriers-to-entry, or is it somewhere else where your product is more in demand? Will you have easier access to customers? Is your existing channel sales model applicable or do customers expect to deal directly with you as the vendor? Will clients accept a remote help desk or do they require local resources that can visit and meet with them?

Of course, these are just the most fundamental of questions. You need to understand everything, from the legality of email marketing due to strict privacy laws in foreign countries, to the provision of company vehicles instead of healthcare contributions for employees in the United Kingdom, for example. You need to decide whether you can handle all administration from the United States or if you should set up a legal entity in the local market.

Be realistic. If your existing company requires 30, 50 or 100 people to service and support domestic customers, don’t put one person on the ground in Asia or Europe and expect he or she to outpace colleagues at home. If you don’t have the cash to invest in staff, consider looking for an experienced distributor or partner who knows the local market, has an infrastructure already in place, and is willing to share the risks and rewards.

Successfully building a global business can increase your company’s value beyond your wildest expectations; it can reduce risk from domestic competition and hedge against downturns in your home market. It offers the fulfillment of a dream that many entrepreneurs have had since they started out.

But … if all you really want to do is to see Paris in the spring, you might find it easier and less costly to go there on vacation!