Éric Le Goff is president of Abilis Solutions—an IT solutions company based in Montreal.
When and why did you start thinking exporting might be right for your business?
We worked with international partners from the start. We were mainly in Europe, where we worked with financial institutions to recover faltering IT projects. Rather than offering consultation services by the hour, wherein the consultant has an obligation of means, but not necessarily of results, we offer delivery and budget guarantees, for a fixed price. Our approach is results-oriented, which we believe corresponds better to clients’ interests.
How did your exporting experience evolve to where you are today?
In 2007, we were hired by a big Canadian firm to participate in the recovery of a faltering project in the state of Virginia, in the United States. Two years later, we bought back the intellectual property rights of the software we developed for them.
From 2009 to 2013, correctional services were one of our business sectors, but we were also working with financial institutions and telecommunications companies. We made the choice to focus on the corrections industry and become the global leader in this sector. By approaching different countries, we learned that our solution was well adapted to the needs of many jurisdictions, including, to our surprise, countries in northern Europe. So we worked to develop that client base.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from a bad exporting experience?
When we were starting out, we worked on a long-term project for a very large client in the southwest of France. Toward the end of the project, realizing that we were no longer essential, the client began to delay some payments. This could have bankrupted the company, due to a lack of funds. Thankfully, we’d insured our accounts with EDC, so we were able to get through that difficult time. It’s worth it to insure your accounts when exporting, because payment terms are much longer in some countries than what we are used to in Canada.
What do you know about exporting today that you would have liked to know when you started out?
It’s always a longer process than you expect. You have to be patient. Even with a good product and good teams, cultures and ways of doing things differ from one place to another. So, what works here may not necessarily work somewhere else. You have to surround yourself with local partners who have an intimate knowledge of their market and the language that is spoken in order to facilitate the sale or the delivery of products in the target country. This is particularly true when it comes to clients in the public sector.
What is the most important thing a new SME should know about exporting and international trade?
Paradoxically, it’s easier for Canadian SMEs to break through abroad than at home, and this is particularly true in Quebec. You mustn’t lose track of foreign exchange rate variations. Historically, this has been an advantage for us, because the Canadian dollar is generally below parity. However, variations can have a big impact on the course of business.
In your opinion, what quality should all exporters have?
Competition is much fiercer on the world stage. You have to offer high-value-added products and services in a niche sector. This allows you to reduce risks and minimize the impact of parameters that are beyond your control.
Don’t be afraid of export markets. It’s true that you have to be well prepared before attacking them, but we have the talent and the abilities to create world leaders!
EDC resources to help you export