Small Business Saturday Blog

Exporting - not just for the big!

Wednesday, May 09 at 13:26

Exporting. It sounds big. Freight containers, customs, overseas buyers and the unknown. It all sounds daunting and expensive. Little wonder only 11% of UK businesses sell outside the UK.  Why would you do it when it takes so much time and effort? Why not just do more business here at home?
Because there are huge opportunities for small businesses too!
Here’s the skinny. Research shows that exporting not only makes your business more productive, innovative and profitable, but it can also make it more resilient to downturns*. That’s because accessing new markets allows you to generate new sources of revenue, new opportunities and new challenges. It also allows a business to maximise its production capability, generates jobs and helps keep a surplus in the UK’s balance of trade – all of which contributes to a healthier economy.
Admittedly exporting isn’t for everyone. You need to be ready, willing and able. Even then it doesn’t come without its challenges. You might need to modify your product or packaging, you’ll have to identify the best route to market and perhaps adapt to new distributions channels. You might also need new quality accreditations.
The following also represents some of the big things to get in place before you start:
Exporting will have an impact on your time and capital, so making sure these are available is vital. Ideally you’ll already have a budget that can be allocated to export-led growth activities, but chances are as an SME you’ll need to find an additional source of finance. Options include grant funding, equity finance (seed investment, angel investment and venture capital), debt finance (business loans), trade and cash flow finance (letter of credit, bank guarantees, performance bonds, invoice and purchase order finance), tax credits and crowdfunding.
Plans and research
Failing to plan is planning to ….yes, we all know the saying… but it’s important:
i. Make sure you have a solid business plan
ii. Prioritise your export markets - it’s one of the first steps to developing a successful export strategy. It means doing a proper market selection study so you can focus your resources on markets most likely to give you the strongest return.
iii. Finally, once you’ve identified your target market, you need to research and analyse it. Look at your competitors, business challenges and your company’s competitive differentiators. Your market research should contain your best and most clear description of the current state of the marketplace you are targeting.
Finding customers
This can be one of the most challenging aspects of exporting. It involves trawling business directories and lists of exhibitors at relevant trade shows, as well as going to trade shows and networking events.
There’s a lot to do, but you can get advice from your bank, accountant or lawyer or your local Chambers of Commerce. The Department forInternational Trade (DIT) can also help with all of it. DIT has a dedicated team of International Trade Advisers (ITAs) who will help you throughout your export journey. From helping with your export strategy through to pointing you in the direction of key market and sector information. They’ll help you find overseas partners, understand e-commerce and even sometimes help with the cost of exporting by giving access to funding.
Exporting is definitely a journey. It’s a way to grow and strengthen your business. But it’s not something you have to do on your own. In fact, the more help you can get, the better.
Marco Simon is an International Trade Adviser (ITA) for The Department for International Trade East of England office. Find out about how an ITA in your region could help you by contacting your regional DIT office
*Source: Harris, R., Li, Q.C. (2007)


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