At Export Development Canada (EDC), we’re proud of our Export Help team. Every team member is an expert in their field and every day, they help Canadian businesses navigate the challenges of global trade. They’re on the front lines to answer questions from exporting businesses and offer solutions to their struggles. 

To further extend their reach, the team has started fielding questions from readers, like you, in every new issue of TradeInsights. This month is all about contracts: How to understand them, how to make them, and how to avoid getting caught in common pitfalls.

Do you have a question for the Export Help team? Check out the Export Help Hub here or contact the team directly.

I’ve recently started selling my services internationally, and I’m a little intimidated. I’ve been working as a consultant within Canada for more than 25 years, but I have no experience or training that would help me make contracts with international clients. I’m concerned about making a rookie mistake that could cost me thousands or, worse, a client.

The opportunities I see in the United States and Asia are too tempting to pass up, but I could really use outside expertise when it comes to contracting and invoicing internationally. Can you help?

– Clara from Vancouver, BC

Hi Clara,

Congratulations on taking your consulting business international. Exporting services is one of the ways to participate in international trade and expand your business to new markets. I know that a big step like this can be intimidating, but we’ve got your back. We’ll help you make smart decisions to grow your business with confidence. 

First things first: Hire a lawyer. A strong contract that has been professionally reviewed is the bedrock of any successful business relationship. There’s really no substitute for having a professional in your corner who can advise you on a case-by-case basis. If you don’t already have a lawyer skilled in international contract law, here’s where you can look for one:

  • The Law Society of British Columbia lets you search for suitable candidates through their Lawyer Directory. They also have a Lawyer Referral Service that can help you find someone to serve your specific legal needs. Any member of the public can call the Lawyer Referral Service to get the contact information of a lawyer who will meet you for a free half-hour legal consultation. 
  • In case you want to hire outside of your home province, here are some directories to help you find qualified lawyers anywhere in the world: Best Lawyers, Who’s Who Legal, Chambers and Partners, and Legal 500. Remember to conduct due diligence when working with new service providers overseas.

While hiring a lawyer is a necessary first step, it won’t be enough on its own. You should also increase your understanding of international contracts. Here are some authoritative resources that’ll get you off to a strong start:

  1. Get to know the lingo & review the basics. The section entitled Understanding the legal side of international trade of the Trade Commissioner Service’s Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting covers many of the important concepts to learn when crafting your first international contracts. 
  2. Find out what questions you should ask. Negotiating international contracts gives you a thorough checklist of what you’ll want to ask before signing your first international contract. 
  3. See what templates are available. You won’t always have to draft a contract from scratch. The International Chamber of Commerce has standardized contracts for international transactions, which are available online at a reasonable price. The following model contract might work for your situation: Drafting and Negotiating International Commercial Contracts.

One of the most critical areas for your international contract is the matter of payment. There are lots of different payment methods that you could potentially discuss with your buyer and your financial institution, and it can be tough to know which one is right for you. The following guides will help you understand the most common payment terms that can be included in your sales agreement:

I know all this seems like a lot to take in and it’s probably not helping you to feel less intimidated. But once you start reading, we think you’ll find all this isn’t as tough to navigate as you may have feared. 

Remember, a well-written contract is all about clarity. Once you understand the legal and technical terms, your contract will clearly identify your professional obligations and make everybody happy in the process. And, if you’ve taken our advice, you’ll have a good contract attorney at your side to make sure you don’t run into problems.

Since you’re taking your business international, you’re going to be facing all kinds of new opportunities and challenges. Luckily, we have some additional resources that can help with those, too.

  • Small Business BC (SBBC), a program developed by the government of British Columbia, will give you independent, expert advice that’s been tailored to the needs of small business owners. 
    • The SBBC’s Talk To An Expert program offers small business owners the opportunity to speak with and ask detailed questions to a wide variety of specialist business advisors, so you can get practical advice. 
    • The Talk to a Lawyer service might be especially helpful in your case, as it offers general legal advice about business structures, contracts and similar legal issues.

I hope all this helps, Clara. Remember, it’s natural to feel a little uncertain when taking a small business you’ve nurtured into big international markets. But it’s a necessary (and exciting!) part of growing that business into the success you’ve always dreamed of, and you deserve a lot of credit for facing that challenge head-on. Please check in soon to let us know how you’re doing and what else we can do to help.

All the best,

emiliano introcaso

Emiliano Introcaso
Export Help Advisor
Export Development Canada