Exporting is key to growing your business, because it means you can sell your products or services to a much larger marketplace - theoretically the whole world. You will also take advantage of the fact that sterling has appreciated considerably against the US dollar and the euro over recent years, which is not only a competitive advantage in the developed markets of the US and Europe, but also in the high-growth emerging economies, where currencies are often pegged to the US dollar.
For companies that are already established in their home markets, exporting their products and services to new markets presents a serious growth opportunity. And it isn't just large companies and manufacturers that can export; a business of any size, even a freelancer, is able to export its products and services provided it goes about it in the right way.
Nevertheless, many SMEs are put off exporting by the hurdles they perceive. These may include language, business practices, the difficulty of carrying out reliable market research, exchange rate fluctuations, assessing the credit worthiness of foreign buyers, confusing legal and regulatory systems, and economic and political uncertainty.
But there are some simple strategies that you can follow to increase your chances of exporting success.
- Before you start exporting, choose one market and focus on that one alone - don't try to target a wide range of markets.
- Do your research - make sure you know your potential market, customers and competitors inside out.
- Wherever possible, find a local agent or a distributor who can help you to market and sell your product or service and navigate regulation.
- Write an export strategy document that covers how you plan to penetrate and build up knowledge of your market, who your competitors are, how you will make local contacts, why you will succeed, what your targets and milestones are, which risks you face and how you will manage them.
- Think about exporting to the EU first as more traditional, Western markets tend to be the easiest to penetrate.
- If you target a high-growth (but hard-to-penetrate) market in Asia or Latin America, make sure you visit the country and meet other companies, customers and contacts that have been recommended to you.
- Be sensitive to cultural differences and language barriers - sometimes people will say 'yes' when they mean 'no'.
- Seek legal advice on your intellectual property - in high-growth markets, local companies may try to copy it.
- Speak to UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). UKTI makes British embassy facilities available to exporters and helps them to make local contacts.
- Read all the useful information provided by Business Link on exporting.
- Be prepared for a big, upfront financial commitment.
- Visit frequently.