CEO Opinion

How to expand your firm’s business across borders

Despite economic uncertainty created by the pandemic, the potential for businesses to expand their global markets is increasing. Numerous free trade agreements have been announced between nations, within regions, and between regions. The pandemic has rapidly extended eCommerce, providing more opportunities for businesses to trade across borders. In addition, there are more start-ups than ever before looking for help to scale and trade internationally. Steve Heathcote, CEO PrimeGlobal shares his insights and guidance with the market

Aglobal survey by the ACCA highlighted that 81% of Small and Medium Practices report that their clients have been increasingly involved in international activities over the last three years. However, businesses are looking for help with the biggest barrier,  highlighted as navigating foreign regulations. It is clearly a big opportunity for accounting firms to provide advice and to anticipate their clients’ international potential. Joining a global network, or association, provides firms with a great opportunity to collaborate with other firms, to support their client’s needs. However, the ACCA survey highlights that despite joining such groups, many firms remain under networked.

PrimeGlobal recently brought together member firms from Europe and Asia Pacific to identify best practices to develop international opportunities. A panel of international firms identified the following steps to unlock the full networking potential of the association.

Steve Heathcote, CEO PrimeGlobal

Know who you are and where you are going

The pandemic has led to the need to reset – to stand back and consider what a firm is aiming to achieve. Is it clear which services and industries the firm will specialise in? Is the firm able to deliver these?

Eric Chin, partner at the Singaporean based firm In.corp Pte Ltd, says, “Firms should have a goal to proactively promote the benefit of internationalisation to their clients. It’s a win win. The client will grow and at the same time seek more advice from the firm to comply with local and foreign requirements”.

Creating a strategy, and firm culture, which has global ambition is critical to success.

Eric Chin, partner , Singapore based firm In.corp Pte Ltd

Target your engagement/connections to achieve your goals

Pre pandemic many relationships were formed at in person conferences. Over the pandemic the extent of collaboration has surprisingly increased. Virtual channels allow meetings to take place which in the past were more challenging to arrange. To make the channels work it is important to have a clear sense of purpose and direction. Firms need to focus on who they need to engage with ensuring they seek and offer referrals which are right for them.

Jobeth Muñoz, business development specialist in Dubai based firm Asad Abbas & Co comments, “It is important to be aware of the expertise and skills of different firms. This requires research and being targeted in conversations. Listening and learning is critical to make the right connections.”

Jobeth Muñoz, business development specialist, Asad Abbas & Co, Dubai

Jeroen Geers at the Netherlands firm ABAB notes, “People introduce people. It’s important to make connections between firms that go beyond the managing partners. Professionals within similar service lines or industries should also connect. By talking through real challenges, they can often identify new opportunities to collaborate to support clients. Encouraging professionals to join community groups which share good practices is a great way to start this engagement.”

Geers explains that, “sometimes firms only work with firms they have known for many years. However, new members are joining PrimeGlobal continuously. It is important to look up and make the effort to make new connections. If not, you will be losing opportunities.”

Firms should communicate with those who can open doors. PrimeGlobal regional staff know and understand members, so they can facilitate more relevant connections. Sharing information about referrals with them, is important to increase opportunities.

Jeroen Geers, Netherlands firm ABAB

Ensure you have the capability to deliver

Firms need to ensure they have the right skills and capabilities to support their desired international business. Kevin Tang from the China firm ZhongXingHua says, “If you want to increase opportunities for Chinese busines, it is important to invest in Chinese speakers. Setting up a China desk will help to ensure that you are well placed for inward referrals from large private and state-owned entities.”

Kevin Tang, China firm ZhongXingHua

Identifying who is involved in international work is important to ensure ongoing investment in their learning and development. Firms should create a learning programme in relevant areas; for example, international tax compliance, FX, working internationally etc.

Geers emphasises that, “Firms should ensure that their affairs are in order. For example, their website is up to date and in English to demonstrate their international credentials.”

Communicate and respond

If a firm seeks international support from another firm, it is critical to be clear and precise regarding what is needed. Muñoz comments, “It is important for the firm to be clear about what their clients are looking for. Spend time clarifying requirements and ensure there is a common understanding. Regular check-ins are important.”

Chin notes, “Responding in a timely way to requests is necessary to ensure expectations are met and to demonstrate that firms are joined up.”

Geers notes, “Before introducing another firm to one of their clients, it is best to spend time with the firm explaining what the client needs and checking they fully understand and have the capability and capacity to deliver.”

PrimeGlobal has a code of conduct to support such collaboration. Firms need to commit to respond to all requests within a set time-frame. The code of conduct is enforced to maintain the high standard firms’ clients expect.

It is important for the firm with the client relationship, to provide feedback to other firms collaborating with them, letting them know if the client is satisfied. This is motivating and helps to ensure that standards are maintained.

Demonstrate a collaborative approach

To successfully deliver international opportunities, firms should align to achieve common outcomes. Tang says, “Firms need the support of other firms to help audit global consolidations. Firms should focus on the end client – even if they are not directly managing the relationship. A collaborative approach is also more likely to be achieved if firms demonstrate cultural patience. For example, taking time to understand differences in Chinese ways of working. This requires flexibility and approaching tasks with an open mind.”

Chin agrees adding, “it is important to build trust between firms. This requires openness.” Geers comments, “To collaborate you have to be focused on what matters to others. The best way to approach international opportunities is to first ask what can I do for other members’ clients? Not what can other members do for me?”

Build on success

The more a firm successfully delivers international opportunities, the more opportunities will come. Clients become comfortable working with firms in other jurisdictions and will continue to go to them to meet their needs. Trust is built between firms creating a foundation for more opportunities.

Firms can move beyond reacting to opportunities to creating them; for example, Tang says, “If a firm can see the potential of focusing on the Chinese market, they can partner with his firm to approach the client together. Demonstrating how closely firms from different countries are working together to understand the client, demonstrate cultural awareness and meet its broader needs.”

Simple steps where firms invite other firms from different countries to present to their clients to raise awareness of how to do business in other geographies can be a first step to understand clients’ ambitions. This can lead to firms collaborating to support clients.

As Rob Brown, host of the Accounting Influencers Podcast and facilitator of the panel, says, “The first question collaborative firms should ask themselves when building referral partnerships is 'Can we do more business together?' If the answer is 'yes' then the second should always be 'HOW EXACTLY can we do more business together? That will lead to more innovation, referred work and international business opportunities.”

Rob Brown, host of the Accounting Influencers Podcast

Firms should be ready to tell their story – which goes back to ensuring they have a real sense of purpose and clear goals. There are more international opportunities than ever – if firms follow the steps highlighted, they will be ready to help their clients achieve their full international potential.