There really is no time like the present to start exporting if you want your business to grow, and it’s easier than many people realise to overcome the barriers, as Steve Samson, from Kent International Business, explains.
Although the world has become a lot less certain in recent months, and it might be tempting to wait and see how things pan out before making key business decisions, now really is a good time to think about exporting.
A favourable exchange rate, an increasing demand for British products and services and a range of effective business advice and support services are just a few reasons why you might want to look beyond the UK to boost your sales. Although it may be a daunting prospect, exporting brings a number of benefits:
Exporting is a great way to grow your business
Although exporting takes time, focus and commitment, selling into overseas markets can significantly increase your customer base. There may be international markets out there where no-one is selling similar services or products or where your product or service could fill a significant gap in the market. UK firms are successfully selling everything from software to food & drink across the world.
New markets can help you spread the risks you face
We are living in a time where anything can happen and it sometimes feels like the economy is on a very unpredictable roller-coaster ride. Selling into several different countries can help you to iron out any peaks and troughs in demand for your products or services in your domestic market. If your sales are very seasonal in the UK, why not explore opportunities to follow the sun and even out demand across the year.
Exporting to untapped markets can prolong the shelf-life of a particular product
You’ve probably invested a significant amount of time, energy and finances into perfecting your offer for the domestic market. But before you embark on creating the next big thing, taking your existing product or service to a brand new market might enable you to continue to benefit from your previous investment for a much longer period of time.
Becoming an international company can help you attract and retain a talented workforce
The ability to offer exciting development opportunities for your staff and to retain the best talent in a dynamic international company will ensure that your employees are excited about coming to work.
You can have some fun along the way
Ok, so getting up at 4am to catch an early flight to mainland Europe won’t feel particularly glamorous at the time but travelling to meet your distributors, customers or business partners can be fun. Doing business in another context and culture will expose your company to new ideas and you will no doubt have a few tales to tell along the way.
There are many other benefits to exporting but there are still several factors that can put businesses off exploring opportunities overseas. A new study carried out by the Kent Business School as part of the KCC-led European project SME Internationalisation Exchange revealed a number of barriers faced by Kent firms:
- Exporting is too hard!
Of course, selling products or services overseas is going to be more complicated than doing business with a customer down the road, as you’ll need to think about logistics, labelling, translations, after-sales support and exchange rates, but there’s a lot of support and advice out there to help you avoid common pitfalls. If you develop an international strategy and are prepared to invest some resource into exploring opportunities in one or two overseas markets, your initial investment could pay off.
- The world’s a big place, where would I start?
Your website is your window to the world. A quick look at your site analytics might give you an indication of where there could be an interest in your products or services. Are you getting a lot of hits from the Netherlands, do any of your staff speak a foreign language or have contacts in another country? A few minutes spent with a search engine and a short follow-up visit might identify a market with huge potential for your product or service. The majority of the UK’s exports end up in the EU and the USA, but there are plenty of emerging markets out there with a strong demand for British products and expertise.
- How would I find a partner or a distributor?
If your product or service offer is right, there will be overseas contacts who would love to work with you. Partners can be identified through various avenues including Enterprise Europe Network’s partner finder service, the Department for International Trade’s overseas posts and through European programmes such as ISE or Boost4Health which can link Kent firms to contacts in mainland Europe. Make sure you select a business you can work with – the first offer might not always be the best.
- Will unpredictable exchange rates mean I lose out?
Whilst no-one really knows what will happen to the value of the pound, it’s possible to put in place a sensible strategy to ensure that fluctuations won’t wipe out your bottom line. There are specialist firms which offer foreign exchange services and of course, your bank will be able to help. It may even be that your product or service commands a premium in a particular international market minimising any exchange rate risk.
- I don’t have the time or expertise?
Exporting needs resources and an initial investment in terms of staff time and research and development. It’s a long-term decision but if you get it right, the rewards will be well worth it. Why not speak to companies which are already active in your target market, many would be willing to provide a few handy tips. Access some of the free support that’s out there to help you with everything from selecting a market to getting the paperwork in order.
With an open mind and the right support, exporting could be a route to a growth in sales and profitability for your company. You might well need to make a few tweaks to your packaging or labelling; add a landing page on your website in the language of your target market; develop a clear pricing strategy in a foreign currency; and work out the logistics of getting your product to an overseas customer—but why not give it a try?
Find out more at www.kentinternationalbusiness.co.uk