“One of the crucial steps in internationalisation is the successful choice of external partners.”

– Fé Zenner, CFO at ML6
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External Partner Selection in
Internationalisation: Steps Taken by ML6

One of the crucial steps in internationalisation is the successful choice of external partners. The Gent-based machine learning and artificial intelligence provider, ML6, considers it an essential foundation for promoting growth across borders, as stated by CFO Fé Zenner. “If we see that a particular collaboration isn’t going as expected, we adapt quickly…”

For ML6, the selection of external partners is a natural progression of organic growth. Zenner explains, “We actively sought out partners, but we also listened to companies with activities in the same countries within our network. Which partners do you work with, and based on what criteria do you determine this?”

“For HR and payroll purposes, we currently receive support from SD Worx. At one point, we decided to standardize these processes, but this doesn’t take away from our satisfaction with the HR and payroll services provided by, for example, our Dutch accounting partner.”

“The Advisory Role is Not to be Underestimated”

ML6 operates in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom. “In the Netherlands, we rely on Van Den Akker Accountancy for accounting,” Zenner says. “They also use Exact Online. They serve as both an accounting and payroll partner, and they provide excellent advisory services. This is precisely what we expect from an external partner across borders, particularly in terms of detailed work in areas like taxation.”

For operations in the United Kingdom, ML6 collaborates with Gravita Accountants. “Our accounting needs there are limited, but we are satisfied with their services,” Zenner explains. “They also use Exact Online and offer a wide range of services. Since we do not employ personnel across the channel, we currently do not have a need for more extensive services.”

In their home base of Belgium, ML6 works with the accounting firm Baete, Frimout, Sanctorum. “Located in Roeselare, they have been part of the ML6 story from the beginning. They know our company very well, and we are also pleased with the services they provide.”

“When it comes to the initial choice of banks, I wasn’t directly involved, but I can highlight some important factors for us,” Zenner emphasizes. “It is convenient if the bank can be integrated into the multibanking platform ISABEL. We use this software to centralize all our banking transactions. The digital nature and user-friendliness of online platforms are essential, as is the level of service and helpfulness. Additionally, we are aware that in some countries, it is better to align with a bank that our local clients are already familiar with.”

“Avoid Decisions Based Solely on Gut Feeling”

When selecting an external partner, CFO Zenner starts with a comparative study after consulting the network. “I essentially create a list of criteria and determine what is or isn’t important for us. For example, the choice of Exact Online as an accounting platform is crucial. This allows me to subsequently make an objective selection because making decisions based solely on gut feeling is not a good idea.”

“Then I compare potential partners and seek input from the management. Ultimately, I generally end up with three options. Crucial in the search is, of course, personal experience. I can draw on the knowledge I have gained in other start-up and scale-up environments. Additionally, there is a finance community, similar to HR, where professionals facing similar challenges connect. In that regard, networking is very interesting.”

“Adaptation Becomes a Necessity for the Company”

The choice of a partner is not static for Zenner. “If we see that a particular collaboration isn’t going as expected, we adapt quickly. Communication is crucial in this process. We have changed partners a few times in the past, but we have been with the same partner for a considerable time now. However, I don’t rule out the possibility that this could change because needs also evolve.”

“Our partners must, on one hand, assist us with questions and uncertainties. On the other hand, they serve as a control mechanism. They ensure extra confidence in the figures and provide local knowledge about financial processes, taxation, and more. Moreover, we seek advice and tips. It’s convenient if they already have similar companies in their portfolio in terms of sector and size. External accounting firms should possess a wealth of information and share best practices from parties facing similar issues that we also encounter. In this way, you create a win-win situation and essentially bring local knowledge in-house.”