5 tips to successfully export your services | BDC.ca
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5 tips to successfully export your services


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 Marie-Elaine Beaudoin, a business consultant with BDC’s International Expansion team and an expert on exporting services. “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.”

She offers these five 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 Beaudoin.

She 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. Beaudoin 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. Watch out for visa issues

While you always have to understand the laws of the land you’re exporting to, when selling a service abroad you may have to physically cross the border to deliver it. That’s where things can get much more complex.

Beaudoin recalls a Canadian company that sold shopping mall decorations to a customer in the United States. “They were able to ship the decorations to their client,” she says, “but not the workers to install them because they didn’t have the right visa.”

You typically need a B-1 temporary business visitor visa to enter the U.S. to perform a service. To get one, you may need to bring a letter to the border detailing the nature of your business and how long you’ll be staying. But the B-1 isn’t the only visa you may require. It all depends on the nature of your work, the type of workers you are sending and the duration of your trip.

And that’s just the United States. Every country has its own entry requirements. A good way to make sure your plans aren’t disrupted by visa issues is to check with a lawyer who specializes in the country (or countries) you want to do business with.

4. 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.

5. Anticipate the risks

If you or your employees expect to physically deliver services in another country, make sure you’re aware of any physical or political risks before you go. You can check the travel advice for your destination on Global Affairs Canada’s website. Global Affairs also 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.