Selling your services overseas: developing countries are hungry for American product-information – selling information services to foreign countries – Business Opportunities – column

Jerry Cheslow

A Los Angeles-based corporate-identity firm wins a contract to design signs in Tokyo. A San Francisco engineering firm faxes drawings to Pakistan. An Atlanta-based computer-training firm is selling franchises in England and Europe. A Washington, D.C.-based firm is working with companies in 19 European countries to develop and sell marketing software.

The world is indeed becoming a global village in which services as well as products are shipped around the world by fax machine, telephone, moderm, and satellite. The 1989 free-trade pact with Canada; the 12-nation European Community starting on December 31, 1992; political reforms in Eastern Europe; and the growth of key trade partners in the Far East ensure that the exchange of services will continue to grow.

The largest American service exporters are multinational telephone, financial, and transportation firms. But many small service exporters are doing well, according to Frederick T. Elliot, from the Office of Service Industries at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Management consultants, architects, financial planners, computer professionals, writers, designers, and lawyers are all discovering new markets as trade barriers fall.

“There is accelerating interest on the part of small companies to export their services overseas,” says Helen Burroughs, the small-business trade-policy analyst for the International Trade Administration in Washington, D.C. “Lots of small American publishers are doing business in Canada and Europe. Eastern European countries need management consultants to advise them on new accounting and business systems as they move toward a free-market economy.”

Patrick Kirwan, an international marketing consultant with offices in South Westerlo, New York, and Hampton, England, says: “Products or services in the high-tech area and those that aren’t hampered by handling costs have potential in Europe.”


The ability to transfer information electronically has made information itselfa prime export candidate. “At the heart of the service economy is information,” says Skip Weitzen, author of Infopreneurs: Turning Data into Dollars (John Wiley & Sons). “Most countries don’t have good information infrastructures and will buy information properly packaged from America. Anyone seeking to sell information must first determine whether the information is valuable, what makes it so, and who needs it. Then he or she must find a market that is seeking that information.”

Weitzen, for example, who lectured at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing on ways of starting information industries, is now coordinating an e-mail conference to connect American service vendors with interested Chinese businesses. “China’s economy is 72 percent agrarian based,” says Weitzen. “They’re starving for information on modernizing their economy.”

Another “infopreneur” is Tim Donovan, vice president and executive director of Transnational Data Reporting Service, based in Washington, D.C. TDR, whose three partners operate from their homes in the Washington, D.C., area, publishes a specialized newsletter that reports on the policies and regulations governing the movement of information across international borders. Among its 1,200 subscribers are laywers, governments, and multinational corporations.

“If you want to be successful as a small operation in the information business, you have to become an expert in a very small area,” says Donovan. “We provide valuable information on something that is not included in larger publications. Because relatively few people are interested in our service, no large publisher would want to do what we do.”

Thanks to its newsletter, TDR has developed a lucrative consulting business. “Corporate executives will call us to ask how something we published applies to their specific problem,” says Donovan. “We say, ‘Would you like us to come down and talk about it with you?'”

Strategic Intelligence Systems International, a seven-person firm founded in 1984 and based in New York City, has taken a more global approach to the information business. SIS International collects what it calls “local market intelligence” — as opposed to straight news reports–from 50 affiliates in 55 countries and updates its database weekly. It sells that customized intelligence via its dial-up database to companies looking to expand into those markets. “It’s very difficult to operate internationally as an independent,” says Ruth Stanat, president and founder of Strategic Intelligence Systems International, and author of The Intelligent Corporation (AMACOM). “We actively recruit consultants and researchers in foreign countries to help us.”

Before considering an international operation, a company should have a solid base at home, because the head of the company may spend a lot of time traveling. Stanat, for example, says, “I spend 98 percent of my time traveling.”

“The whole export question can’t be a maybe,” says consultant Kirwan. “It has to be part of a company’s growth strategy–and it has to come from the top.”

JERRY CHESLOW, a freelance journalist who covers business topics, wrote “The Best Business Opportunities for the 1990s,” in the September 1990 issue.”

COPYRIGHT 1991 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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