After being shortlisted for the HSBC Scottish Export Awards 2016 as e-commerce exporter of the year and Scottish export team of the year, BQ caught up with director of operations Deborah Fyfe to see how they conquered overseas markets and what obstacles they had to overcome on the way.
What is it the company does?
IASeminars is an independent global financial training company specialising in international accounting seminars (IFRS & US GAAP & IPSAS) and other financial training events. We are considered a market leader in our field and have an excellent reputation for quality.
Established in 2002 to offer training to European companies planning for their 2005 transition to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), IASeminars has since expanded to become a successful worldwide operation with a comprehensive range of courses being offered in several different languages on five continents - as well as online.
How long has the company been exporting?
What do you currently export, and where to?
IASeminars schedules and runs training events in cities around the world. These open enrolment events are attended by an international audience. For example a London course might attract attendees from Nigeria, the UAE and across Europe. A Miami event might well attract an African audience, and also attendees from Canada, the Caribbean and South America.
We have three delivery modes which also increases our capacity for exporting our services. As well as the open enrolment events, we offer in house training. With in house training we send an instructor to a client to deliver a bespoke event.
Over the years these events have taken place in a huge range of locations. Countries include the USA, Canada, many European nations, the UAE, Nigeria, Botswana, the Cayman Islands, Mongolia, China, Indonesia and Lebanon. This is not an exhaustive list!
Our third and newest training option is online. From our base in the UK we can offer Online training events to clients based anywhere, often at a lower price. We are seeing a huge appetite and also a proven requirement for learning across the continent of Africa, where of course not everyone has the budget to travel overseas for training. We have also observed that African accounting professionals are also great users of technology.
Although our online courses are actively sold to a global audience, we do expect that the African market will be key to our ongoing success.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
Very early in the business it became clear that there was a demand for high quality training on the topic of International Accounting Standards.
In 2003 the business was quickly adapted to enable us to offer our services in venues on the European mainland and in the USA.
The cities of Amsterdam and Washington DC quickly proved to be popular.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
For IASeminars, that has to be our ability to be adaptable in terms of where we offer our courses.
Our business model allows us to easily schedule our events in almost any city in the world.
From there we hire in a subject matter expert, a great venue and supply the course materials.
When the clients are signed up, then we have an event.
And the most challenging part?
Currently our challenge is to diversify our product and ensure that a global client-base is constantly made aware of what we do.
The marketplace is a lot busier than when we started in 2002, and the training requirements of our audience has largely changed.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Language has not been too much of an issue for us as we train mainly in English (although we have experimented with offering courses in Spanish), and the majority of our clients speak excellent English.
We sell in 4 currencies (GBP, USD, EUR, CAD) which we really had to do in order to make our product more accessible and attractive to potential clients.
We manage this by having an experienced Finance manager who has refined our currency conversation and banking practices over the years.
Good practice, shopping around for good suppliers and taking good advice from others means that we can minimise transaction charges etc.
In terms of etiquette and culture we do our very best to work local partners who can help and give advice on the dos and don’ts of working overseas.
In Africa for example, it is very important to speak to your clients and establish strong bonds with them.
We find the differences between nations fascinating, and we will do our utmost to accommodate cultural needs.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
As mentioned we have worked with partner organisations and accounting institutes who have generally been useful.
Our instructors, who travel extensively and speak to accountants all the time, are also a great help in feeding back market intelligence and trends.
Recently we’ve also been working with UKTI, SDI and HIE. We’ve received lots of help and advice from information on markets to practical in-country support on marketing and arranging events.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Do your research and speak to the local market. Visit the countries where you plan to export.
Take part in a trade mission. If you are convinced that the market is right for your product, and vice versa – give it 100% effort!
I think that it’s fair to say that we were slow to visit Africa and really capitalise on the benefits of making these face to face connections.
For example, if we’d been quicker to visit Nigeria we may have gained knowledge of the market requirements more quickly and gained more business.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years time?
IASeminars will continue to work to attract a global audience – and also a UK audience too.
However, we anticipate that our busiest market will be Africa. Training Africans could involve delivering training on the African continent, delivering training to Africans in the UK or USA, delivering via our Online platform or indeed, and most likely – a mix of all three.
I imagine that in 5 years we will still be delivering face to face training but that the demand for Online, on-demand learning will be greater.