Consultants can provide you with something the Trade Commissioner’s Service can’t, undivided attention.
As comprehensive and helpful as our federal government’s export support services are, they are free, which means everyone has access to them. This limits the time a trade commissioner can spend with you.
Consultants on the other hand will hold your hand through every step of the process, and provide you with exemplary, fast, and convenient service at all times—their business depends on it.
The downside? Consultancy services are pricey.
However, if you are brand new to exporting, haven’t the faintest clue how to get started or formulate an export plan, or would rather focus on your core business than the nitty gritty of mapping out a market entry strategy, hiring a consultant might be something worth pricing into your budget.
Consultants can flesh out a fully-formed market entry strategy for your business, connect you with potential customers, clients, and partners, and even assist you in negotiations.
There are no shortage of consulting firms, and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. Before you commit to one, do your research: find out if they are the best fit to service your company’s size, industry, product, managerial style and ambitions. Look for companies who have past dealings with the consultancy you are interested in and ask about the experience. The consultancies themselves should be able to provide you a list of references as well.
Some consultancies specialize in political risks. More information can be found in section 6.5.
The federal government’s directory of Canadian firms that offer export consulting services can be found here.
Beyond private consultancies, The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a crown corporation, offers a unique combination of financing and advisory services. BDC’s advisory services are not cheap, but they can be extremely valuable for first time exporters.
The Business Development Bank of Canada
BDC is a Crown financial institution that provides loans and advisory services to Canadian companies.
While BDC Capital provides financing for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to expand their businesses internationally, BDC Advisory offers consulting services to businesses that need a plan to support their exporting aspirations.
“We are in a unique position to offer both financing resources (BDC Capital) and advice (BDC Advisory), and both of those things come up high on the list of what SMEs need when they want to grow in general, and even more so when they want to grow internationally,” said David Staniforth, VP of International Expansion for BDC Advisory.
When it comes to developing a plan for international expansion, BDC Advisory works through a three-step process to prepare SMEs to enter international markets.
Step 1: Analyse
This is an initial analysis of a company’s objectives, business model, sales and marketing processes, efficiency, products and services, innovation strategy, financial health, and leadership commitment. Staniforth calls this “international growth potential”.
Step 2: Decide
This is where BDC Advisory will help you decide which international markets are right for your business.
Step 3: Strategize
The third step is what Staniforth refers to as a “full-fledged market entry plan”. This is where BDC Advisory will provide a budget, financial requirements, a competitive analysis of the market place, and a prioritized list of potential partners.
These market entry plans can equip businesses with the knowledge required to formulate a successful exporting strategy, but they require a substantial financial commitment. Market entry plans can range from $5000 to $30,000 dollars, depending on the size of a business or the size of a market.
$30,000 can be a lot of money for a small business, but according to Staniforth, “anyone who’s seriously considered going abroad realizes how quickly you can spend much more than that spinning your wheels.”
BDC Advisory offers services that can be of particular benefit to small (5 to 99 employees) and micro (1 to 4 employees) businesses. General consulting for organizational, technical, financial, and HR issues can help better equip smaller businesses for the realities of going international.
“They are going to have to get a lot of their business in order before they start to attack a new market,” Staniforth said, “because the challenges of a new market are significant.”
BDC also has working relationships with other Canadian financial institutions, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, Export Development Canada, the National Resource Council, Industry Canada, the Regional Development Agency, and local trade boards across the country.
Once your finances are in order, your organizational structure is sound, and your leadership is firmly committed to international expansion, BDC can help transform your trading aspirations into a solid plan.