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5 lessons on globalising your self-funded business
Founded in 2012, Consilia is an independent ICT consulting firm that carries no debt and which has been largely self-funded since it was established. Group CEO Johan Botes looks at how his company has grown into an international operation over the past year.
Over the past three years, we grew our organisation into a healthy South African business, before spreading our wings with our offshore expansion plan. Today, we have practices in the UK, Middle East and Australia, with plans to expand to the US next year.
I first started developing the idea for this business seven or eight years ago, but it was only around four years ago that the conditions were really right to launch. Suddenly, we saw the skills, markets and technology we needed start to converge.
Here are some lessons we’ve learnt from globalising our business:
1. Carve out a niche
A few years ago I realised that the South African market was starting to become saturated with SAP consultants, so the high rates they once commanded were starting to sink. At the same time I saw that there was growing demand for Sage ERP X3 skills — a product aimed at mid-range companies that want an affordable and flexible ERP suite.
I surmised that the skills would not only be scarce in South Africa, but also in many other countries. Hence, we found a niche for ourselves, one where we had already spent time developing skills and partnerships we can take into the international market.
2. The technology is available, so use it
In the past few years, high-speed broadband has become pervasive, cloud computing has given us a great deal of flexibility into how we buy and use ICT services, and collaboration tools such as Lync have matured. Today, it’s easier than ever to manage a business from a briefcase if you have a good notebook, a modern smartphone, and the right service provider in the background helping to keep your infrastructure running.
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We run off Internet Solutions’ global backbone, making it relatively simple and affordable to set up a new branch anywhere in the world. With very little fuss, we can plug new employees and clients into this backbone without needing to make huge investments in technology.
3. Get the culture right
People are the key to success in nearly any business, and especially in consulting. You need to think carefully about what skills and competencies you’ll need to succeed, and even more importantly about the business culture you’d like to drive. For Consilia, we recruit entrepreneurial people at a young age and embed them into our business.
Aside from management, most of our employees are graduates aged under 27. We made a conscious decision to recruit people who are adaptable, self-motivated, and quick to learn because we need to be able to work overseas independently. We value business acumen and energy as much as experience and qualifications because these qualities can’t necessarily be trained into someone who doesn’t have them.
4. Support the team
Hiring self-starters doesn’t mean leaving them completely to their own devices – in a global working environment you need to provide structures for training, mentoring, performance management, and incentivising staff. And if someone is struggling, they need access to help and support.
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We don’t hesitate to bring someone home for a while if they’re struggling overseas, for example.
5. Define your markets carefully
Exporting skills can be a complex and risky business. That’s why it’s important to do a careful due diligence on every potential new market, carefully looking at market demand and needs, the cultural fit with your business, and the practical barriers such as regulatory requirements and language. For example, we’re focusing mostly on English-speaking countries for now, even though we recognise that there are some great opportunities in South America and Asia.
We believe that success is about product, people and infrastructure. Get the mix right, and you can today build an international business without needing to make a huge capital outlay.
Image by Mark Doliner via Flickr