If you ever visited a Disney park in years past, you’re probably familiar with the ride, It’s a Small World. Created as a tribute to UNICEF during the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it featured hundreds of dancing dolls in traditional costumes from across the world. The lyrics, written to promote world peace, include, “There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.”
I can think of no better description of today’s global marketplace. Consider the fact that more than half of Google’s revenue now comes from outside the United States; Apple has a similar split. In addition, two out of three small businesses sell merchandise or services outside the U.S.
The international sector offers those in our profession extraordinary market conditions. There are more than 190 countries on the face of the planet, hundreds of industries in need of service and millions of potential businesses to serve. Also in the plus column is the fact that while international markets were traditionally dominated by the Big Four, that’s no longer the case – mid-market CPA firms have a unique opportunity to develop their international footprint.
Nonetheless, many mid-market accounting firms have yet to reach beyond U.S. borders. When I broach the topic, one excuse I hear is that the firm doesn’t currently have any international companies in its client base. I respond calmly that it’s worth it to confirm this statement by asking clients about their foreign presence – either ownership (foreign entity/joint venture), sales activities (sales force/distributors), property (distribution, warehousing, manufacturing), or people (executives, employees). The odds are high that they’ll find something.
I’ve also had to stand up to firm leaders who claim that the reason they aren’t doing global business is a lack of in-house international expertise. This is not a market condition; it’s just a temporary, easily rectified situation. The market doesn’t care if you have talent. The market only cares if you can provide a solution to its problems! The antidote is to pursue strategic relationships with firms that possess the international expertise you need. Partner with them to serve an early adopter client by considering revenue sharing, a joint venture or other strategic arrangement.
Another excuse I hear is the absence of international businesses within a firm’s geography. Until you look closely, you might not see international commerce. But this has proven untrue in so many cases, I always recommend researching and validating. That way you’ll know for sure.
Engaging with tools like Uniworld Online, publisher of a multinational business database, can be a game-changer. Its Web site,
uniworldonline.com, is a rich resource that answers questions like, “How many Texas subsidiaries of Brazilian oil and gas companies are there?” or “Who are they?” or “How many Japanese subsidiaries of U.S.-based technology companies are there?”
I recently helped leaders of a Kentucky accounting firm size their market. Using the Uniworld Online platform, their effort revealed that, much to the client’s surprise, an impressive number of international companies in their state aligned closely with the firm’s expertise.
Armed with that information, we headed to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development to gain deeper insight into the market. We also looked at businesses and individuals known to the firm through its international association. We studied the portfolios of existing clients to uncover possible affinities. At the same time, firm members were making research calls — locally and digitally across the globe — to learn everything possible about their international potential.
This work formed the foundation of their international niche. Here’s the takeaway: Whether it’s happening around the corner or around the world, practice growth occurs at the intersection of services, targeted buyers and distribution channels.
The time has never been better to find your place in the incredible huge world of global business opportunity!
Gale Crosley, CPA, consults with accounting firms on revenue growth.