07/05/2012 06:16 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2012

Diversification: Will You Seize The Opportunity?

One of the biggest lessons we have shared with companies and their executives has been that of diversification: seek to diversify revenue streams, to expand into new industry verticals, to pursue international markets. The recent (and to some, ongoing) economic crisis was tough, but it hit particularly hard the many businesses whose customers, industries and markets were too narrow and of a domestic-only nature.

Though we launched our company back in 2006, it was not until 2009 that we felt that our message began to fully resonate within the business community we have sought to help. The basis of our company has been built on social responsibility: when we help businesses grow, they become more resilient and create jobs; and together we strengthen communities and the overall economy. We owed to ourselves -- and to the community -- to share our perspectives and experience in a way that could reshape the future of companies with latent growth potential. The core message: You can be a USA-based business, grow abroad, and create jobs domestically as a result.

So we took to main street. We connected with chambers of commerce, associations and other entities who have the ear of the business community in hard-hit economic areas (being in Michigan helped), where we conducted speaking engagements that planted a seed in the mind of company executives. The seed was a simple question:

"How would you like to experience double-digit top-line growth in 12 to 18 months by making little to no changes to your current structure?"

When asked, most top executives and leaders expressed a great deal of interest in learning more. And then we framed the question in the context of international markets. "Uhms," "hmms" and other murmuring doubt sounds began -- as though unless it is domestic growth, anything else is unchartered territory fraught with fear, uncertainty and self-doubt.

Here are some statistics that might show why FFF companies (those Fraught with Foreign Fear) are missing out from going abroad, showing the 2009-2011 growth rate of U.S. companies exporting products in key sectors:

- Transportation = +41 percent
- Chemicals = +38 percent
- Computers / Electronics = +34 percent
- Machinery = +34 percent
- All others = +67 percent

What does that mean for you? Maybe your next string of sales might not be to your closest buddies in your USA back-yard. Here are three reasons to include an international market expansion into your strategic plan for 2012 and beyond:

1. Improved resilience to macroeconomic storms: Lots of companies did not make it out alive from the United State's economic storm of 2008. Do a little digging (we did) and you will find that many of the low- to mid-market companies that met their demise four years ago were largely focused only in the domestic market. Spread your goodness to other global regions, customers and geographical markets and you are better apt to weather home-based economic storms. You treat your financial portfolio with the due diversification diligence it deserves, don't you?! The same diversification concept holds true for your business and your market/customer base.

2. Transfer market knowledge: Licensing, franchising, export, JVs... whatever mode of entry you choose, pursuing an overseas market makes you smarter about multiple facets of your business. New customer traits, new applications for your product, a new category of channel partners, market trends that you can instigate domestically from overseas behaviors, new products or offerings spurred by foreign customer demand... the list goes on. You might learn more about your own company and your domestic market by looking outside of your current environment. It is akin to taking a walk in nature: get outside to gain a fresh perspective inward.

3. Grow your top line: Look at your watch. Right now -- at this very moment -- there are customers outside of your domestic market who could use what you have to offer. The same goes to the channel partners that service said customers... they want products/services/brands that are fresh, different, new, and better than what they have in their own domestic markets. Engaging with such customers, channel partners and other foreign market entities helps create a great ecosystem to increase your market reach and boost your sales. Do this in a flourishing market with growing gross domestic product, internal access to capital and hungry local customers and you find yourself in a position to create sustainable, positive sales growth for your business.

Foreign market growth is more attainable than most companies often believe. There are lots of resources, free and for hire, to help you accomplish an international market expansion, reduce your risks and improve your success rate. Both service and manufacturing companies we have helped implement this strategic move have reaped -- and will continue to reap -- the benefits, and so will the communities of which they are a part. After all, international growth often requires domestic jobs to be added in order to support near- and long-term operational needs -- and that is a very good thing.

With so much growth opportunity abroad the question is: will you let the opportunity pass or seize it to transform your business and your community?

Crossposted from