This is the second in a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about certification. To see the first post on U.S. certifications, click here.
Is certification just a U.S. thing? The answer to this question, like so many others, is “it depends.” If you are certified through NGLCC, NMSDC, and/or WBENC, there are options for you to build a network of business owners like you outside the U.S. Similarly, if you are located outside the U.S. there are options for you to connect with U.S. businesses through their international affiliates –NGLCC Global, NMSDC Global Link, and WEConnect International.
While supplier diversity and inclusion began as a U.S. government initiative, it has evolved to become a must have program among Fortune 1000 companies. These companies recognize that the same benefits they experience through their supplier diversity programs domestically – increased competition, innovation, better pricing, community engagement, public relations, and a better bottom line – are also benefits to an international supplier diversity program. Therefore, along with a U.S. supplier diversity community, there are international opportunities for your company to partner and build a client base. As you begin to expand your footprint internationally, here are some questions, I often hear and encourage business owners to ask when they’re thinking about expanding their footprint.
1. What is Diversity and Inclusion?
Diversity and Inclusion is different in different places. You may find if you are doing business in the United Kingdom, the focus is on small business and inclusion rather than diversity. In South Africa, the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Act establishes regulations to drive black ownership of businesses and employment. Knowing your client’s goals for diversity and inclusion, and what they need to achieve them is your first step. In addition, while the certifying organizations are growing, no one organization has a presence in every country. Check the list of countries to see if they can be a resource for you.
2. How do I find clients?
The easiest way to bring your company to an international market is to expand with your current clients. Even the most successful business owners have challenges when they are expanding internationally and they encourage their peers to expand with a current client, rather than try to build a market presence in a new place. If a current client needs you to do what you’re doing outside the U.S., that’s a great opportunity to build a presence and past performance.
3. What if my clients don’t have international opportunities, but I think the market is there?
This is when it’s time to do your homework. While expanding with your clients is good work if you can get it, your contacts may not have any connection to the international side of their businesses. In that case, you will need a different approach and perhaps different contacts within the same company. For example, many international programs linked to diversity and inclusion have an economic development focus or be housed within corporate social responsibility (CSR) functions as opposed to business functions. Depending on what your company does, working with your client to deliver programs may be a way to get to know their international strategy.
4. How much should I plan to travel?
The frequency is up to you but I feel confident telling you to get your passport ready. In order to get to know partners, organizations, and potential clients, you have to be ready to travel. The certifying organizations listed above have events and programs to help you connect. Click these links to see upcoming programs and events: WEConnect International, NGLCC international affiliates, and NMSDC Global Link.
5. Should I plan to open an office where I want to work?
For many countries, that is a necessary step but before you get into international taxes, employment law, and regulations, one way to establish a presence on the ground outside of your home country is to work with a partner. This is where your international networks come in handy. Between differences in time zone, language, currencies and customs, having a partner who can address local challenges is invaluable. This takes long term strategy and building a business relationship. There is no substitute for getting to know someone well enough to trust them with your company. The international organizations you belong to can be helpful in identifying people and helping you make connections but the long term planning will be up to you.
Do you have experience working internationally? What advice would you give a business considering this step? What pitfalls can you point out?