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    Building Skills for Women Service Exporters


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2003

    Most women-owned firms are in the services sector. Business training can build the expertise and confidence necessary for these firms to export their services efficiently.

    While businesswomen have the potential to supply services across borders, many businesses owned by women in developing countries are not exporting. Often, they do not take advantage of the opportunities open to them because they lack confidence or exporting knowledge - problems that can be solved by obtaining training in the skills the need toexport their services successfully.

    The most important skill for service exporters - whether male or female - is building trust in their offering. Because services are intangible and a service is not actually created until it is delivered, it is essential for service providers to develop a profile and credibility in new markets. Below, we will explore several strategies to achieve this.

    Relationship marketing

    Relationship marketing is different from traditional marketing because service providers listen to clients' needs, then shape the service offering accordingly. The goal of relationship marketing is to build trust, out of which sales result. In the case of agricultural or manufacturing exports, customers may see and handle samples or try them out at trade fairs. Services, however, cannot be inspected ahead of time. Buying services is therefore a risky business for the buyer, who relies predominantly on word-of-mouth referrals. Service exporters need to become the firm that others recommend in the export market. Therefore, exporting in the services sector requires the service provider to establish credibility and gain the trust of potential clients. This can be a lengthy process.
    Becoming the recommended firm also requires extensive networking and an understanding of the client's culture. Potential clients need to be confident that firms can actually deliver the services they offer. In fact, word-of-mouth referrals are one of the most important ways in which services are sold, so service providers need to have an excellent reputation among their clients. Therefore, one of the key strategies will be to find ways for potential customers to see how well the business can perform: giving presentations, writing articles and providing informational seminars are all very good.

    Networking successfully

    To survive in business, it is imperative to develop a strong network of information and referral sources. Businesswomen's organizations and networks play an important role in supporting women exporters and developing international contacts and trade. However, they should not be a substitute for chambers of commerce or mainstream associations, but rather a complement to them.
    To be a successful exporter means replicating domestic networking success in a new market. The most efficient way to begin to build international contacts is at events that bring together people with similar interests, such as professional conferences and international seminars.

    An important purpose of networking is to encourage people who know the capabilities of the services business to recommend it to others, i.e., to become an advocate. Therefore, the business needs to provide potential advocates with frequent updates on accomplishments, particularly as it expands into export markets, and to alert them to opportunities that would be ideal for the firm. Networking does not stop with meeting people. For those with a busy travel schedule, follow-through becomes the challenge. Women service exporters need to learn how to develop and use networks, at the local, national and international levels, and how to make and follow up on contacts.

    Creating strategic alliances

    Firms will need to establish relationships directly with potentialcustomers, rather than relying on local agents. Women exporters may beuntrained in marketing, and not comfortable in that role. But potential customers want to meet the service providers in person. This means that, unlike goods exporters, service exporters cannot rely on a local service representative or intermediary familiar with the culture andwith an established network of contacts. Some service firms choose toaddress this problem by working with a local partner to deliver theservice, which is actually the easiest and cheapest way to enter a new market. Indeed, partnering with a local male-owned firm might be advisable for women service exporters wishing to tap into markets where the culture dictates a less visible role for women.

    Strategic alliances are becoming more and more important to export success. When it comes to winning business abroad, partnering with a suitable local firm can significantly lower market entry time and costs.

    At the selection stage, the biggest challenge is making time to test the relationship before you are committed to a possibly incompatible partner. But remember, strategic alliances are like any other relationship: they thrive if given proper attention but can become counter-productive if neglected. Setting specific and frequent milestones for evaluating progress can help to ensure that the project stays on track and the partnership works well.

    Where to find help

    As international competition shifts from price to quality and flexibility, the need for training becomes increasingly important. In addition to technical skills, all service exporters - not only women - need interpersonal communication and problem-solving skills that allow them to reach out to new markets and interpret their needs.

    Several tools have been developed recently to give would-be exporters the knowledge and training they need to export successfully. However, much of the existing exporting and marketing literature focuses on goods. With this in mind, ITC developed a series of training modules on the basic skills of exporting services. Aimed at associations, these are designed to train trainers, who can adapt them to the specific needs of women service exporters. The modules, which include handouts, practical exercises and presentations to help the trainers in their work, can be ordered by associations and training institutions. Together, the modules make up a comprehensive and instructive guide for entrepreneurs wanting to enter the export market.

    ITC also offers a one-day training programme for women entrepreneurs in the service sector. Entitled "Gender in Trade", the programme covers export preparedness; enterprise development; linkages and networking within the mainstream business community; roles for women entrepreneurs in "gender in trade"; creative leadership; and building economic empowerment.

    What does exporting services mean?

    A service exporter is an entrepreneur who is paid for services by a 'non-resident' customer, regardless of where he or she provides the service. Providers can export services in four 'modes':

    • from their country to customers across a border;
    • to foreign visitors in their own country;
    • by setting up a commercial presence abroad; and
    • by travelling to a foreign country to deliver the service.

    For more information, contact Doreen Conrad, Head of ITC's Trade in Services Unit, at conrad@intracen.org