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Over the past three months the amount of clients asking if they should be billing offshore and how to find clients overseas has almost consumed my engagements. It’s clear that with the current South African economic climate, the ‘strength’ of the rand and the huge Covid unlocks in terms of selling and delivering remotely, “Africa, your time is now.”

 Why aren’t you billing in dollars, pounds or euros for your precious hours? 

Consider this [and please don’t stone me for this later]: Shipping skills north of the equator removes the BEE constraints of doing work in South Africa, can unlock anywhere between 50% and 200% more rands per hour for the same work [considering you are world class at the services you peddle] and it has genuinely never been easier to do than right now.

If you get this right, and I am not suggesting that you leave the cash offshore and skirt SARS, let’s be honest, setting up smart and legal structures may be of advantage to you and may also feather your Plan-B nest. God, I love mixing metaphors. Also, that second beer just kicked in.

So how do you start and what should you consider?

You are almost starting a new business. Don’t forget some of the fundamentals of that. Consider the quality of your skills [and match clients], consider your differentiators and remove frictions that your opposition [in your target market] don’t have. Like what?

Start with banking. If you intend asking your client to bend over backwards and pay you in a manner that becomes a pain point for them, you may lose them in the sales process. Ideally when a client asks, “So how do I pay you?” you should say, “Just like you pay your local suppliers!” Solve that.

If you consider yourself a BPO [Business Practice Outsource] solution, then be aware that prices may become your forced differentiator. Think Indian call center – high volume, low margin. Not ideal. So, what is the local market paying for your services and if that average is “100%”, by what % margin do you need to be cheaper for the client to consider using you? Between 10% and 40% is probably the needle mover but then again, why discount at all? Rather compete on a different USP and at the same price. If you are that good, then why not ask full price? Price is race to the bottom and you are most likely not set up for low touch, high volume, razor thin margins, are you?

Network. If you have lived, studied, and worked in South Africa, you know expats, lots of expats. You just haven’t applied your mind as to who that is. Start with that ex-girlfriend/boyfriend, the one whose heart you broke and ended badly and haven’t spoken to for 10 years. Ask how they are, where they are and who they know that can spend money with you. Okay, don’t start there, but go deep into your ecosystem and make friends again with people living abroad that could be a degree removed from your next customer.

Another way to get your name out there is to target the middlemen – businesses like yourself that either don’t do the same work as you but live in the same industry sector and may be able to use you for overflow work or even [better] mark you up and resell your services. My first prize is to find people who will place you directly in front of leads for a referral fee. Yes, set that up, and offer it when applicable.

Going direct is hard, I know, but way cheaper than paid media and Google ads. We as South Africans have no comprehension how competitive that landscape is until you try bidding on words in London or Hong Kong. Direct = LinkedIn. Direct = email. Direct = cold call. Did I mention direct is hard? It’s a volume game and you should play that endless game with patience and grit.

We speak English [mostly good enough] and are for many regions, in the two- to three-hour time zone that works for them. We are easy to reach [outside of loadshedding hours] and our quality of work and most importantly, our work is ethic, is world class. [I feel that South Africans work like dogs, mostly.] Some of us even speak Portuguese, Hebrew, German and other second languages that help us diffuse into the local sales mix like frankincense and ylang ylang.

Join the Facebook pages, the forums, the entrepreneur organisations and the local chambers of commerce [yes, some of those actually work in other countries] and preach the word. If that doesn’t work, start looking for South African clients that are part of a global brand, blow them away with your work and charm, and get the global referral over time. That’s a long play, but is most often how I see local clients gain international work.

If you have the money to burn [and burn it you will] then hire a local salesperson/account manager/business development guru and get them to open doors and be the face of your organisation in the city of your choice. When it comes to big city life, avoid the obvious cities. You want London, try Liverpool. You want Paris, try Marseille. You want NYC, try Boston. Did I mention how competitive these big cities are? Look for the secondary and tertiary cities – they are big enough for you and your ego, I promise.

Once you have decided to target and dominate your city of choice, ensure that all your owned marketing channels and content speak to that city and ideally the industry of that city. If I hit your website, it had better say why you are the “Most savvy agency in the Norfolk region for the fintech SAAS start-up.” Own the geographical niche. Then get back on the direct outreach and be hyper focused. You probably don’t need 100 clients. You just want five that pay twice as much as your local clients. Lastly, on this point, immerse yourself in their local knowledge – who are their politicians, musicians, soccer heroes and idols that make for quality presales chit-chat? Grease those sales wheels, baby.

Make no mistake, you have a challenge in SA with finding and keeping local talent, and one of the reasons is that they are leaving physically or leaving the local market to sell in Sterling and now you just can’t afford them. Your SA clients can’t pay those kind of rates, so find ones who can, and leave you a healthy margin.

It’s about to get very competitive in South Africa. Local brands will have to start paying more for quality output or lose the chance of working with you and your team to a truly global marketplace that will find value in you and not have to swallow a giant price pill. Get a foot in the door, show your value and barge that door wide open! You can do this. It’s never been easier or more profitable. No more excuses.

Disclaimer. This was written without editing on a late night flight from Cape Town to Joburg after a few beers and may rub you up the wrong way. I am open to debate. I know it’s not ‘one shoe fits all’, but you gotta admit there is something here, right?

ps. This post was subsequently edited by Mandy Collins.

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