Great Business Ideas: Forge an International Alliance

Great Ideas for your Small Business:

Forge an International Alliance

Forging an international alliance is a quick way to expand your business without spending a lot of money. The secret is to find a partner who can share his or her contacts and also understand your vision and integrity. Entrepreneurs in the service sector often have the easiest time striking informal agreements to work together because they are selling time and talent.

A few years ago, Manhattan architect William Leeds was introduced to Indian architect Bobby Mukherji by a mutual friend. Mukherji, founder of a five-person firm in Bombay, was interested in entering the U.S. market. Leeds was eager to tap into India’s thriving economy, which is growing about 5.5 percent a year.

For several years, the two architects have designed a variety of projects, including a fabric showroom, a trendy Chicago restaurant, and a major Indian government office in New York City. They say they both benefit from sharing their clients and talents. “To be working with somebody from a place as far away as India gives us a new perspective on architecture and a new approach to planning,” said Leeds. “Bobby brings in new ideas that we wouldn’t necessarily have at our fingertips.”

Besides new ideas, Mukherji provides access to unique Indian building materials and a team of twenty-five Indian craftsman and artisans on his payroll in Bombay. Many Mukherji projects, especially his nightclubs, feature original artwork and hand-carved details. Although they live thousands of miles apart, Leeds and Mukherji communicate frequently via phone, fax, and modem. “Something that is on our computer screen here in New York City is on his screen in minutes,” said Leeds.

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The firms work together on a project-by-project basis based on a handshake, not a written agreement. They split the expenses and profits depending on who does what. Joint projects with Mukherji comprise about 10 percent to 15 per- cent of Leeds’ total billings.

Leeds hopes that eventually 25 percent of his total projects will be in conjunction with Mukherji’s firm. Both say one of the great benefits of the relationship is acting as each other’s marketing representatives in the United States and India.

“We look out for his interests and help him to grow,” said Leeds. “In India, Bobby helps us because he can usually  determine who is real and who is not. Between the two of us, we can accurately target the right clients.” Finding the right international partner requires a combination of luck and skill. One way to make connections abroad is to sign up to participate in a government-sponsored trade mission.

The Department of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration organize and send high-level government representatives on several missions a year. You can find out what’s being scheduled on the SBA’s website (www.sba.gov). Business owners pay for all their travel expenses, but the government sets up appointments and escorts the business owners, who travel as a group.

You can also contact the Department of Commerce’s commercial officer assigned the country or countries where you want to do business. These country experts are usually fluent in the language and happy to make introductions between U.S. businesses and compatible companies abroad. Visit the agency’s site (www.home.doc.gov) for more information.

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