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"Libres échanges" podcast series (in French only)

Host Katerine-Lune Rollet interviews entrepreneurs and specialists from a variety of sectors to discuss topics related to owning a business. Tune in to hear different points of view and enjoy surprising conversations, wise advice and tried-and-true solutions.

Latest episode

Episode 6 - Running a business experiencing exponential growth

November 25, 2021 - When your business is expanding by leaps and bounds, it's important to have the tools to maintain healthy expansion. So how do you plan properly through these phases of growth? Katherine-Lune tries to answer these questions in an interview with Frédéric Soucy, President of Soucy Industriel, Bernard Sozio, Account Manager, Business Development and Stéphane Pageau, Vice-President, Major Accounts at Desjardins Business.

Frédéric: My business exploded. We saw a sixfold increase in sales from June to September.

Bernard: Plan, it can't be said enough, plan. Plan for sufficient resources—human resources, financial resources, equipment…

Stéphane: It's all well and good to turn a $5 million profit at year's end, but if that $5 million is in inventory on the shelves, it's not in the bank.

Katerine-Lune: Hi, this is Katerine-Lune Rollet. You're listening to Libres échanges, a Desjardins Business podcast where I discuss topics related to entrepreneurship.

Today I'll be speaking with 3 guests about running a business experiencing exponential growth. Happy listening.

When your business is expanding by leaps and bounds, it's important to have the tools to maintain healthy expansion. So how do you plan properly through these phases of growth? That's the focus of my conversation with Frédéric Soucy, President of Soucy Industriel, Bernard Sozio, Account Manager, Business Development, and Stéphane Pageau, Vice-President, Major Accounts at Desjardins Business.

Good morning to the three of you.

Man: Hello.

Man 2: Hello.

Man 3: Hello.

Katerine-Lune: Frédéric Soucy, you're the president of Soucy Industriel, a fourth-generation family business in Rivière-du-Loup with more than 250 employees. In the last 10 years, you've doubled your turnover 3 times over. In your case, we can really talk about exponential growth.

Is it your company's role to be there when there are mechanical issues at a big construction site or in a mine?

Frédéric: Yes, that's us in a nutshell! Our job is to show up with solutions to problems that meet the needs of customers in a variety of industries. Production equipment at primary contractors in Quebec and Eastern Canada is often massive in size. You can't just take it apart and ship it back to the factory for repairs. For us, that means deploying teams throughout Eastern Canada.

It's not just a question of showing up, deploying resources and workers and doing the work. It's about taking the time to identify the optimal solution that will limit production stoppages for the customer.

Katerine-Lune: Bernard Sozio, you are Account Manager, Business Development, at Desjardins Business - Bas-Saint-Laurent. You're also the account manager for Soucy Industriel. How do you help Frédéric with his business?

Bernard: Soucy Industriel is expanding in different sectors and taking advantage, as Frédéric said, of all kinds of opportunities. But it's also a company that makes acquisitions and develops new customers and technologies. This generates different needs. It has to mobilize resources, acquire workers, mobilize the workforce.

Soucy's growth also involves breaking into markets that are new to the company, often with different payment terms. So, it's important to know the company's business model so we can try to meet its needs as best we can with our financial products, and help it grow within their operations.

Katerine-Lune: Stéphane Pageau, you are Vice-President, Major Accounts, Eastern Quebec at Desjardins Business. What is a major account?

Stéphane: Major accounts are companies with higher-than-average financing needs, but also greater need for things like international services, different banking services. We're a bit like a continuation of the Desjardins Business Centres to better support members who are growing.

Katerine-Lune: Bernard, can you tell us how exponential business growth is defined?

Bernard: In most cases, mature companies grow in line with inflation. Usually we're talking a growth rate of around 5% or 10%. But when a company is seeing 15%, 20% of 25% percent annual growth, we talk about exponential growth. That means sales can easily double or even triple over a 5-year period. This generates needs that are also exponential, especially in the short term, and impact the organization, especially the company structure. These are challenges.

The company has to adjust to these new environments on a daily basis because today's reality is not the same as it was 2 years ago. So, it takes experienced managers at the company level and also support in terms of financial products.

Katerine-Lune: And you, Stéphane, how do you define exponential growth?

Stéphane: It's like taking a sailboat across the Atlantic. That's kind of what being an entrepreneur is all about. And when I hear the word exponential, I immediately see 60-foot waves in my head instead of a long, calm river. So that's the difference.

Katerine-Lune: But are there differences between types of growth? I’m thinking of growth by acquisition versus organic growth, for example. And are the challenges the same, regardless of the type of growth?

Stéphane: With acquisitions, the challenge is more about synergies, business model consistency, paying the right price, and integrating new resources. With internal growth or new product development, it's more about equipment, fixed assets, human resources, and so on.

Katerine-Lune: Frédéric, your company is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. You, you've been the president since 2000, but it was in 2010 that things really started to explode, especially in 2013, when you saw sales increase 6 times in 3 months. I think we can safely call that exponential growth. How did it happen?

Frédéric: Our biggest customer, ArcelorMittal, was starting up a new production line they had just built at Mount Wright. There was the construction strike at the time, which was affecting the construction industry. What happened was that the week before startup, someone from ArcelorMittal calls me on a Wednesday morning to tell me they need 25 workers to help deliver the line to operations. He asks me for 25 workers. I say, "25 workers, Simon, no problem with that."

On Thursday morning, he calls me back and says, "Fred, it's not 25 workers we need, it's 50." I say, "50, that's a lot of people!" But I tell him, "Simon, we should be good with that." Then on Friday, he calls me again and says, "Fred, it's not 50 guys we need, it's 75." He lists off the trades: electricians, electro-mechanics, welders, plumbers—almost all trades I don't have. So, I say, "Whoa, time out, Simon, this doesn't work! Simon, what's your plan B?" He says, "Fred, you're our plan A, our plan B, our plan C!"

So, I tell him we'll do it, we're on board. We went on the Emploi Québec website and printed out all the résumés that had the keywords "plumber," "welder," and "mechanic." Basically, what he needed was extra hands. And it was an emergency, we had to react.

After that, business went crazy. We increased sales sixfold from June to September. Speaking of financial tools, I remember talking with Bernard every week, sometimes several times a week. Because of the line of credit, I needed to support us financially. We'd already been growing at a nice pace, but now it was like a tidal wave. I had maybe 50 people total on my payroll, and we went from 50 to 200 employees in 3 months. Bernard supported me 200% on this. There was a very good relationship of trust.

Being close to your financial partners is key. In this case, there was no time to prepare. We were in firefighter mode, but we were excellent firefighters for the industrial stuff and Bernard was a good firefighter on the financial side. So it was really a team effort.

Katerine-Lune: I'd like to talk now about the steps a company needs to plan for when it envisages rapid growth. Stéphane, do you want to tell us about these steps?

Stéphane: To keep it simple, I'll go back to the sailboat metaphor that I really like. Before setting sail, there are many things to think about. First, do you have the right boat, the right equipment? Do you have enough food for the voyage? Which route will you take to cut down on sailing time? Do you have the human resources you need to help on the way? Sailing alone isn't necessarily the smartest idea, especially when you're in 60-foot waves.

I was listening to Frédéric earlier. I was close to Bernard. I called him regularly. It was great. One thing Frédéric didn't talk about so much was that fact that when you hire 66 people, you need internal resources for administration. He needs sailors. He needs people to help hoist the sails. He's got both hands on the tiller, but he can't do everything. In short, you need to be well prepared, to visualize. It's impossible to foresee everything, but it's possible to put all the chances on your side to cover the maximum number of risks.

Katerine-Lune: Bernard, what about adapting to different supplier payment terms, which probably get more complicated as you grow? Is that important?

Bernard: It's very important. When you see growth like that, it's often with new or existing customers. But in a situation like that, it tends to be the market that dictates the terms of payment, and not the company. You're going after a new market. You're doing business with a new client. Turnaround times are different.

So, you have to adapt. It's rare that you have enough clout as a company to impose payment terms. The company and the financial institution have to take these terms into account to properly support liquidity.

When you want to grow exponentially, it's important to be in control of all your business processes. You can't manage exponential growth if your bookkeeping or cost tracking is weak, or if you have shortcomings on the workforce or planning side. You have to have enough support and be agile enough in your business processes to be able to grow.

Katerine-Lune: Frédéric, is adapting the key to success at the various stages of exponential growth?

Frédéric: When you hire massively like we did, it obviously diluted Soucy's DNA. At a certain point, as you progress in the organization and as an entrepreneur, you also develop a better idea of what you want. Both for yourself and for your team.

In the end, we realized that yes, growth was fun, but not at any price, because it has a big impact on quality and team spirit. It also has an impact on family life because you're burning the candle at both ends, you're never there, you've got the pedal to the metal. At some point, you have to find a balance in all of this. Because rapid growth can be just as devastating as a decline.

Katerine-Lune: When a business seems to be flourishing from the outside with this exponential growth, it can still be a very difficult time for an entrepreneur, then?

Frédéric: When you're in a really, really high-growth environment, it's obvious that working 40 hours a week isn't enough to keep everything on track. This means that everyone pays a bit of a price. And we're all human beings, fathers and mothers. Morale is very important.

I wouldn't want to destroy that chemistry at any price. All these experiences of life and of being an entrepreneur brought us to think that we have fun working together, so we'll take as much growth as we can handle. And the day we stop having fun, it won't be about turnover or profit or whatever. At that point, we have to be able to sit down and be straight with each other. Look, this is where we're at, but there are cracks showing, and we need to take action if we want to keep growing.

Or, at some point, we may say that we've brought the company to where we wanted it to be. We've brought it to maturity; now we have to work to keep it viable and maintain job stability. It all depends on the company's vision and mission, its values, and the people working there. Then after that, we set our course and make sure we deliver the goods.

Katerine-Lune: Are there any tips you can give us to avoid common mistakes when a business is experiencing exponential growth? Bernard?

Bernard: The points Frédéric just raised are true. In 2010, Frédéric was an entrepreneur, a one-man band. He managed a lot of things. He was heavily involved in operations. But he reached out, listened to people, took advice and started delegating a lot more. He started planning a lot more too, so he's able to manage his time better. To achieve exponential growth, it's important to have the right manager and management team in place. And it's important to protect that team and that entrepreneur.

Frédéric has done really well over the years. For the company per se and also in terms of long-term viability and planning. We can never say it enough, but getting back to Stéphane’s sailing voyage reference, it's about planning, about having enough resources. We always talk about human resources, financial resources, equipment, strategies that are in place.

Why go after this market and not that one? Why this acquisition rather than that one? Soucy has incorporated all that into its planning, in terms of strategic vision. For years, Frédéric has been doing strategic planning and looking for new business opportunities. He doesn't go after all of them, but he knows how to pick and choose. These are the pitfalls to avoid for a company to ensure its long-term survival.

Stéphane: You can boost business volumes, take on more and more contracts, but at some point, there's a limit. Entrepreneurs often pay a lot of attention to their financial balance sheet. But the real financial statement is the cash flow or the cash flow statement.

You have to plan based on practices in the industry you're dealing with. How quickly can you collect accounts receivable? And how quickly do you need to pay suppliers? The difference between the two is where your cash shortfall will be. And there are 3 sources for the funds needed to make that up. Your financial partner is there to support you. Suppliers are there to support it. But there is also the entrepreneur's share, which comes out of their working capital.

When a business fails, it's often because it doesn't have enough working capital to support growth. Once again, I'm talking about resources. There are limits to resources. It's all well and good to make $5 million in profit at the end of the year, but if that $5 million is in accounts receivable or in inventory on the shelves, it's not in the bank.

Katerine-Lune: Frédéric, any advice for entrepreneurs listening in who may have a business on the verge of taking off? Or any mistakes you made where you thought to yourself, I wouldn't do that the same way again.

Frédéric: As far as receivables are concerned, we've had problems with bad accounts. As a smaller local operation, we did a lot of business on a trust basis with our customers. Then we hit the big leagues where it's all contracts, purchase orders and so on and the primary contractor says do the job and the PO will follow. In the end, you end up chasing after your money a bit. After 90 days with a line of credit, your account is no longer recognized. So sometimes you can get into financial trouble because you haven't received your money.

My VP of finance says there are 3 things in finance that are crucial: get the cash, get the cash and get the cash! That's it, there's no other way. It's all about risk too. Which is why we decided in 2010 or 2011 to insure our accounts. That way, if I've done my job as a manager, and the customer has a problem—environmental or whatever—and doesn't pay me; at least I have my insurance to cover that receivable.

The other really important element, which Bernard mentioned earlier, is that I like to surround myself with people who are better than me. Whether it's in finance, human resources, business development or operations, I love being able to learn every day from the people around me because they are solid in their field. I think that's very important, as an entrepreneur, not to be afraid to surround yourself with people who are better than you. It's not about being the one-man show and thinking you know everything. I think it takes a lot of humility. In the end, we are much stronger as a team than as one person. That's pretty much it.

Katerine-Lune: So, what do you think makes a company successful when it grows a lot over a short period of time?

Bernard: One of the first things—we talked about processes, but in growth management, there are so many imponderables—is transparency. How transparent the entrepreneur is with their creditors, and vice versa. Needs have no limits, but resources do. So, each party has to see what their limits are. What are the issues for each? Put yourself in the other's shoes. Try to understand what the company's real issues are in order to better respond to them. It's all about transparency. When there is good communication, when there's transparency, it's a success factor.

Katerine-Lune: Stéphane, your success factors?

Stéphane: If you're about to set sail and you're all alone on the dock, you're going to feel even more alone when you're facing headwinds and 60-foot waves out in the middle of the ocean. So, if you want to go on an adventure, turn on the lights and if you see growth coming, look around the dock and recruit some good people, good sailors, professional engine repair people, whoever you can. Surround yourself with specialists and professionals, that's the recipe.

Katerine-Lune: Frédéric?

Frédéric: I'm going to piggyback on Stéphane's idea a bit. When you set out on a sailboat, you surely have a destination. So, I think at the core, it's a question of strategic planning, of having a vision, a common goal, of communicating it and sharing it with the team. Sure, you need a solid team, but you also need to communicate your vision to all stakeholders, whether it be bankers, customers or suppliers.

I think it's a big adventure. Vision and communication are the keys to success. Because if you have an idea and tell yourself that's where you're going, but you don't share your idea with anyone, you won't be able to get your people all rowing in the same direction to achieve that goal.

Katerine-Lune: Frédéric Soucy, Bernard Sozio and Stéphane Pageau, thank you very much for joining me for Libres échanges. And Frédéric, for your growth, which is a bit like an Atlantic crossing, I hope you're prepared for 60-foot waves, and most of all, I hope you have the wind at your back. Thank you.

Frédéric: Thank you very much.

Bernard: Thank you.

Stéphane: Thank you.

Katerine-Lune: Libres échanges is a presentation of Desjardins Business. You can find all the episodes of the show on Spotify. My name is Katerine-Lune Rollet, thank you for listening.

Episode 5 - Growing internationally and developing markets abroad

November 25, 2021 - When business is good, exporting products and services abroad can be both exciting and stressful. How do you know if you're ready? How do you plan for this important phase in the growth of a business? Katherine-Lune explores these questions with Vincent Stever, co-founder and CEO of TowSoft and Benoit Marcoux, Expert Advisor, International Services at Desjardins Business.

Benoit: It's important to have the financial resources, but also the time to develop these markets.

Vincent: Don't think that doing business 6,000 km across the Atlantic is beyond your reach.

Katerine-Lune: Hi, this is Katerine-Lune Rollet. You're listening to Libres échanges, a Desjardins Business podcast where I discuss topics related to entrepreneurship. In this episode, I'll be speaking with 2 guests about growing internationally and developing markets abroad. Happy listening.

When business is good, exporting products and services abroad can be both exciting and stressful. How do you know if you're ready? How do you plan for this important phase in the growth of a business?

That's what I'm going to try to understand today with Vincent Stever, co-founder and CEO of TowSoft, and Benoit Marcoux, Expert Advisor, International Services at Desjardins Business.

Hello to you both. Welcome to Libres échanges.

Vincent: Hello.

Benoit: Hello. Thanks for having us.

Katerine-Lune: Vincent Stever, you are CEO of TowSoft, which was founded in 2014. The company currently has 10 employees at its headquarters, and 6 in Paris since spring 2021. Vincent, tell us about your software.

Vincent: TowSoft is an IT company specializing in solutions designed to optimize the roadside assistance and towing and recovery ecosystem. Traditionally, towing companies have operated without much in the way of digital tools, so largely paper based. It's an industry computer developers hadn't paid much attention to. It's quite complex and there are a lot of relationships to manage between the towing company, the person on the side of the road, and the client, whether it's a transport ministry, a highway authority or an assistance or insurance company.

This whole relationship, or ecosystem as we call it, relied on paper and phones. So, the first thing we did was develop software to help towing companies manage their business better and go digital, like other industries today. After that, we developed solutions to help the other important players in this relationship, i.e., the person broken down on the side of the road and the client, in addition to the towing company. So, to digitize this relationship from start to finish.

Katerine-Lune: Thank you. Benoit Marcoux, you've been working in a financial institution for 18 years. What's your role at Desjardins Business? And how do you support entrepreneurs in the export process?

Benoit: I'm part of the International Services team at Desjardins. We offer a full range of payment, risk management, operational, and transactional solutions to companies of all sizes. We also help businesses with market development, finding suppliers, and so on abroad.

Katerine-Lune: If there are business owners listening right now who are hesitant to go international, are there any signs they can look for to tell if their business is ready to export?

Benoit: Obviously, there are fields of business where exporting comes much later in the business development process. A company will start locally. After that, it will gradually grow, probably targeting the region or the province. Often enough, it will then set its sights on other provinces, and eventually the American market. That's a pretty standard pattern. But today, especially in the digital sector, as we'll see with Vincent's experience, things are moving much faster. Of course, there are fewer logistical issues involved in moving software than in moving goods in containers.

We're now seeing companies that start out international, whose first projects are happening abroad. That's very different. Are these companies ready? That's a big question. Obviously, it takes resources to develop internationally, that's clear. But along with resources, yes, financial resources, it also takes time. It takes a management team capable of developing these markets. It takes effort. So, it's important that there be people who are specifically designated to manage these projects.

Katerine-Lune: Vincent, Benoit just told us that the United States is the first country Quebec companies traditionally export. In your case, you set your sights on the Francophonie. Tell us about how you made the move to doing business internationally?

Vincent: As Benoit mentioned, our business is digital, so borders aren't really an issue. We have no logistics; we have no manufacturing. For us, the first step came when we determined our product could be used anywhere on the globe. At the risk of repeating myself, we serve the towing industry, we do roadside assistance optimization. Wherever there are roads, there are cars—and unfortunately those cars break down.

For us, the Francophonie is a really interesting export growth driver that shouldn't be overlooked. In our case it was easier to cross the ocean and target markets in the French-speaking world, starting with France. Quebec has a special relationship with France, both economically and culturally. And in the U.S., we were up against stiffer competition. So, it was easier to cross the Atlantic and start out in France, and from there, to explore opportunities in the rest of the Francophonie.

Obviously, the size of the country counts, too. Looking at France, with its 72 million people, it was clear that there were a lot of potential customers there. And in nearby francophone countries like Belgium or Luxemburg, there are a lot of people and therefore lots of motorists. So theoretically, a lot of breakdowns.

Katerine-Lune: Which means customers for you?

Vincent: Exactly.

Katerine-Lune: Once you said "OK, we're going to France," what were the steps?

Vincent: For us, it all started with a relationship we developed with a distributor. We met the company that became our distributor by pure chance in 2017. We met in Saint-Jean, where we have our office. They were on a trade mission. After that, we went to a trade show. The towing industry has its trade shows just like any other industry. In Quebec, there's an event organized by Association des professionnels du dépannage du Québec. In France, there are 2 shows.

We went to a trade show in 2017 in Lyon held by a French towing association, Association des dépanneurs automobiles de France. Our solution got a lot of attention during the 2-day show. There was a lot of buzz about the Canadians who had just arrived. That's when we realized that there was a room for us in France and interest in our solutions. That's where it all started.

Katerine-Lune: I guess we can say that networking, or word of mouth at this show in your case, and all the steps that helped you later, are a big part of exporting.

Vincent: Definitely. It's a small industry. People talk to each other a lot, help each other a lot. There's a real sense of camaraderie. When some potential customers saw our solution, it quickly made the rounds in the industry.

Katerine-Lune: Benoit, we've just seen that trade shows are one way to meet potential business partners. But when you want to export your products and services, are there any steps to take before you start?

Benoit: There are planning steps that are very important, because doing business abroad comes with risks. There are different ways to export your products, too. You can work from facilities here in Quebec and sell your product abroad. You can open a subsidiary, like Vincent did in France. You can also acquire a company overseas. There are all kinds of ways to approach an overseas market. It's important to choose your approach.

After that, depending on the choices you make, you need to manage the risks involved. The most obvious one is the exchange rate. It's on the news every day, but it has a real impact on a business's results. There is also the risk of default. You know less about the companies you're dealing with, less about local practices and so on. All of these things need to be properly controlled, ideally as soon as possible. Because when you negotiate contracts with people abroad to determine who will be responsible for merchandise, shipping, insurance, and so on, all these things are an integral part of the initial negotiations. It's important to start early in the process to make sure that everything is aligned and that you don't hit any bumps when rolling out the project.

Katerine-Lune: Can you give us some examples of the services or tools you offer?

Benoit: We have a program called International Gateway. It provides businesses with access to people on the ground to help with partner searches, negotiations, and so on. It's less about operations and more about the strategic side.

Katerine-Lune: Let's talk about the International Gateway program. Vincent, how has this program made a difference in the growth of your business?

Vincent: As Benoit mentioned, in the case of France, we did things ourselves because we knew the country better. I had been a frequent visitor to France myself. It's a country that's closer to us. But when we started thinking about doing business in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, it was very important for us to be able to analyze the risks, and to analyze the culture as well.

That's where the International Gateway came in. It was very helpful to have people on the ground, local people. We had the opportunity to meet with them in the presence of people from Desjardins. We were able to ensure they had a good grasp of our business model, what our company was about, what our targets were. And they were able to share advice on things to be wary of or to take into consideration when starting out on their home turf. Thanks to the advice we got, we actually decided to start with Morocco and Tunisia because in Algeria, there were things that were more complicated to deal with before doing business in the country. In short, the coaching was very beneficial.

Katerine-Lune: When you want to do business abroad, there are also cultural differences to take into consideration. What can you tell us about that?

Vincent: We set up a subsidiary in France in March, and it's been a cultural learning experience. I thought I knew the culture, but it's completely different at the professional level than at the personal level. We've been employers in France since March, and we've learned what goes with that. When we get our teams working together, that means adapting the language a little, the way we write and talk to each other. I read my emails today, and if I had to reread messages I wrote 5 years ago, it wouldn't be the same language I use now, even when I write to my colleagues in Quebec.

Katerine-Lune: Benoit, do you agree that entrepreneurs sometimes forget about the cultural differences a bit too quickly?

Benoit: Yes, it's definitely an issue. France is a really good example, as we just saw. The culture is different, and on other continents, it can be even more different, because with France, we at least have close ties in terms of language and so on. North Americans tend to get straight to the point in their business dealings, but it's another story in other places. It takes a lot longer to build a relationship beforehand.

I think we need to take that into account. If you don't take the time to learn about the culture, you'll be dealing with ahead of time, or adapt how you talk, write and so on, it can leave a strange impression. I think the ability to adapt is really important for entrepreneurs, companies and teams involved in developing international projects. It takes a lot of adapting.

Vincent: When it comes to a company's reputation, things change completely once you start doing business abroad and the industry finds out. Even for us here at home, bigger companies have started showing a lot more interest in our solutions now that we've successfully sold them to equivalent-sized companies abroad. There's a saying that no one's a prophet in their own land, but once you've proved yourself abroad, it's easier to get people to look at what you're doing. It's been very, very good for us in terms of both image and team size.

Katerine-Lune: Benoit, do you agree with what Vincent just said? Do companies that go international sometimes offer better service to Quebecers because their business has grown and become better known?

Benoit: Definitely. When a company is growing, there are opportunities to improve service. By providing 24-hour service, for example, which may not be possible when the company is smaller. There are all sorts of things that get added on and become necessary. If you want to serve a market in a time zone opposite ours, you have no choice but to extend your service hours. And obviously, that benefits the local clientele as well, so it's interesting.

There are economies of scale as well—all sorts of considerations that come into play when a company is growing. Reputation-wise, I think it's good for the company's image. When a company expands to serve markets overseas, it's seen as a success story. Getting a venture up and running abroad is no easy feat. So, when people see that a company has been able to do this—and more than once in some cases—it gives them confidence here at home too.

Vincent: It's given us a more comprehensive picture of the market, too. We acquire expertise and gain experience outside Quebec and Canada, then use that experience and different perspectives on the industry to bring back improvements and ideas our industry might not even have considered. The opposite is also true. When we go abroad, we bring our homegrown expertise with us. Doing business in different places gives us new insights into our market as well as occasional ideas and innovations that are really interesting.

Katerine-Lune: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs from any industry who want to export? Benoit?

Benoit: The first piece of advice is to determine whether you really have the capacity for it. You have to do some serious strategic thinking at the company level before launching a project abroad. There are a lot of implications. You’ll need to assemble a new team. There are new issues to deal with. You need to familiarize yourself with the country you want to do business in, with regulations and tax impacts. There are all sorts of things to consider that will be different. And you have to remember that the things that have made you successful at home won't necessarily work in markets abroad.

The agri-food industry is a good example. People's tastes are not the same. A product that sells very well in Quebec won't necessarily have the same success abroad. Sometimes you have to adjust your recipe a little. This is true for any venture. Each aspect may be a little different. It's important to think about this, to have a clear plan, and to test things. Ideally, you'll want to do a proper market study. Before investing too much time, plan and study your market properly so you can make an informed choice about where you are going. Vincent mentioned earlier that there was one market, Algeria, they decided not to enter right away. Choices like that are important; if you embark on a project that doesn't really work out, you'll have invested a lot of energy and financial resources, even though there might be another country right next door where things would work better.

So, choosing your market is very important. And surrounding yourself with the right people, as I said. There are many partners. We're lucky, Quebec companies have a lot of resources to help them. We collaborate with all these people. That's why our people meet with them. As soon as there's a project on the table, that's the time to contact the people at Desjardins, our advisors. We have international trade specialists in every Business Centre to have that first discussion, assess the issues, help you find good partners. From there, you build a game plan. This is the first step.

Katerine-Lune: Vincent, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are hesitant to take the plunge into exporting?

Vincent: Well, as Benoit was saying, planning is super important. And surrounding yourself with the right people, that's a given. But entrepreneurs being entrepreneurs, there's also an element of risk that goes with all this. Making the leap is important in my view. It's a calculated risk. Above all, don't think that doing business 6,000 km across the Atlantic is beyond your reach. Don't hesitate to look at your industry abroad to see how you stack up in another market.

It's not hard. There are great government programs that encourage entrepreneurs to take those first steps. It shouldn't be seen as something that's not doable, especially for smaller businesses. It's often small companies that hesitate because they're not the same size as the bigger guys. But we're a small company. I think everything is in place today to help companies get started, learn about the tools available, then go out and do it.

Katerine-Lune: Vincent Stever and Benoit Marcoux, thank you very much for joining me on Libres échanges. And Vincent, I hope you conquer the world!

Vincent: Thanks so much. It was a pleasure!

Benoit: Thanks to you.

Katerine-Lune: Libres échanges is a presentation of Desjardins Business. You can find all the episodes of the show on Spotify. My name is Katerine-Lune Rollet, thank you for listening.

Episode 4 - Launching your business: Where to start

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