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Yes We Can, Canada!

By Dave Archer |

This is the first installment in a 15-segment series in CanadaOne that will take you through the process of doing business internationally, from a standing start to the return from your first in-market visit – when you will know with certainty if and how you can succeed in a new foreign market of your choosing.

Do you remember "Yes We Can, Canada"? If you watched Hockey Night in Canada and other prime-time TV in the late 80's and early 90's, you may have seen these 30-second advertisements that showcased small, main street Canadian companies – and how they had succeeded in conquering new export markets.

While the Canadian government has made a wide significant resources available to help Canadian companies to sell their products in markets around the world, the "Yes We Can, Canada" campaign is one of the few I can remember that addresses the most significant hindrance to our collective success as global traders: motivation and mindset.

Our government trumpets our status as a trading nation – and on the face of it, this is true – just look at our trade surplus, especially with the United States. But strip away exports of natural resources and we have a wildly negative trade balance. Compare us then to countries like Japan, with few natural resources, or Germany, which does more international business than anyone (that's overall, not per capita), and the big difference is mindset.

How can we overcome this seemingly cultural impediment to global trade that we as Canadians seem to inherit at birth? The answer is motivation. Government at all levels, along with business organizations that have an interest in enhancing our international business activities including trade associations, chambers of commerce and many others, should take up the challenge not only of facilitating trade activities through training, marketing assistance and other resources, but also motivating people and companies to take advantage of those resources.

So how to do we do change our mindset? The first step is communicating the advantages and enjoyability of doing business internationally. Many Canadians perceive markets beyond the U.S. as "too hard". They've heard that "Mexicans don't pay", or that "there's no way to compete against China's prices", but the reality is that there are business opportunities in those and other countries that are going unnoticed by Canadian companies that are reluctant to go out and look for them.

Why do business internationally? You can't afford NOT to! Companies who are capable of becoming more involved in international business – but choose not to – do so at their peril. This, of course, excludes retail stores, pet grooming shops, and others not well suited for active globalization.

So, specifically, what are the benefits of selling to, and/or sourcing from new, distant, and unfamiliar people and regions? Well, the obvious ones are easy: increased sales, along with decreased costs per unit that come with increased production should deliver greater profitability. We all know that – or should.

But the less tangible benefits are no less important – and can lead directly to enhanced competitiveness. When a business person who has been operating in traditional markets contemplates new international markets, they begin to think outside their box. They exit their comfort zone and enter a new space of unfamiliarity. They rely less on their knowledge (because they literally do have less knowledge of an unfamiliar market) and rely more on their instincts and their ability to acquire, process, and act upon new information. Their mindset has automatically become broader and more creative because it has to be: they are now in a fluid and rapidly changing environment, and in a heightened and more alert mental state because they are outside their comfort zone. The result is often new, creative plans and solutions that otherwise may not have developed within the comfort zone.

Another intangible is the enormously increased reservoirs of knowledge that can be tapped by doing business in and with other nations. If you've made some "business friends" in another country, you now have new sources of information, ideas, and advice available whenever you need them. By traveling, people are exposed to new cultures, products and services, and ways of doing things that can be emulated or adapted to their business and personal lives.

Companies who do business internationally are tougher competitors, period. Adapting to new and different competition and markets allows you to take that experience and implement new ideas and strategies that make you stronger – even in your domestic market.

Finally, as former International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew was fond of pointing out during his speeches, doing business internationally is fun (provided, of course, that you enjoy new people, places, cultures, and food!). There is absolutely nothing un-Canadian about enjoying the experience of doing business abroad – and don't forget, it's tax deductible!

I've had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of incredible experiences and hospitality courtesy of new friends and business partners around the world, some of which I'll relate in future articles over the next fifteen months – and also had the pleasure of returning the favour when they've visited Canada. I've heard on more than one occasion that "my friends are never going to believe that I'm on a snowmobile on a frozen lake with the temperature -20 degrees, and I'm not even cold!" (full disclosure: they did look like the Michelin man – and helmets can truly complicate certain hairstyles!).

Whether you're buying or selling, make the entire world your own by embracing the advantages of today's global economy. With preparation, motivation, and determination, international business for fun and profit should be part of your personal and professional life.

In the next issue of CanadaOne, we'll look at the next step in doing business internationally: Analyzing your resources: Do you have what it takes?

Canadian, Eh!

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