4 tips to successfully export your services
Read time: 4 minutes
Services make up close to half of Canada’s exports, but goods are often the first thing that pops to mind when we think about exports. This is too bad because exportation is an essential tool in making a business more competitive and efficient, which will allow you to grow and become more profitable in the long run.
“A service export is any service provided by a resident in one country to people or companies from another,” says Igor Chigrin, a Senior Business Advisor with BDC Advisory Services and Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) who coaches entrepreneurs on exporting.
“The basics of an export strategy are similar for services and goods, but in general, services are easier to export because they don’t have to pass through as many procedures such as customs, transportation, regulation, labelling, etc. At the same time, exporting services requires a fine understanding of your client’s culture and business savvy.”
He offers these four tips for entrepreneurs looking to export their services.
1. Understand your client
Knowing who your clients are applies to exporting both goods and services, but it takes on extra importance with services because what you’re selling is at least partly your people.
“You really need to learn about your client—understand how they think, what their needs are, their culture and how they do business,” says Chigrin.
He advises investing at least some time in doing research before you engage. This could mean visiting the country where you hope to do business a few times before making a sale, or even inviting prospective clients to Canada to visit your business and get to know you better.
2. Adapt your product, sales and marketing material
While the features on a spec sheet may be enough to convince a foreign customer to buy, the abstract nature of services means they can be a harder sell when exporting.
How does your service differ from services currently available? It is very important that your product or service truly stand out, in terms of real added value, from what is being offered by your competitors. Chigrin recommends preparing project summaries or testimonials (translated, if required) to lend credibility to what you’re offering. But don’t stop there!
Once you’ve successfully exported services to another country, be sure to translate your communications tools—your website, brochures, and any other marketing materials—and evaluate your after-sales services for anything that might not serve your new clients. For example, make sure your standard voicemail greeting and service desk hours take different time zones into account.
Since selling services is always best done through local resources, the next step would be developing partnerships with local firms, channel partners or hiring local employees.
3. Understand the tax implications
Depending on which country you are selling your services in, you’ll sometimes pay taxes on your profits and sometimes pay a value-added tax (VAT), as is the case in the EU.
It’s also not always clear how your exports should be categorized and taxed. A fiscal expert can help you determine how exporting your services will affect your taxes and which category your export falls into.
4. Anticipate the risks
If you or your employees expect to physically deliver services in another country, make sure you’re aware of all the physical or political risks before you go. Global Affairs Canada’s website provides extensive information on safety and security, health notices, entry and exit requirements, laws and culture, natural disasters, climate and emergency services.
Also take into account what your health insurance plan covers and seek additional coverage if necessary.