How to start exporting

News: Overseas markets

June 04, 2013

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With more than half of the value of Britain’s exports coming from SMEs, these power houses of our economy have a big role to play when it comes to conquering our trade deficit.

Around 20% of Britain’s 4.8m SMEs are already exporting, suggesting there are many more who could be. Professor Robert Blackburn, an expert in small business at Kingston University London, believes that as many as 500,000 more could be taking part in the export drive.

Many SMEs are concerned about a whole raft of issues associated with exporting, including: the difficulties of coping with new languages and cultures, adapting products or services for overseas markets, and whether, at the end of it all, you’ll be paid.

Whilst there will always be some SMEs who never opt to export, simply because they don’t have suitable products or their owners prefer a quieter life in the home market, for those willing to be more adventurous, the rewards can be huge. This is especially true for companies with niche products where there are, inevitably, limited opportunities for growing sales in the UK.

Four key points for any business that wants to succeed in overseas markets:

Competitive advantage. Ensure the product or service you’re offering delivers real competitive advantage. If it’s simply a ‘commodity product’ that can be replicated easily by the domestic market, there will be no reason for foreign buyers to come back time and time again.

Do your research. It’s important to understand the needs of the overseas markets you decide to target. That almost certainly involves making a visit before you take a final decision. Speak to local companies who are potential buyers and sound out local agents and distributors who will have much more in-depth knowledge about what local buyers really want.

International standards & accreditations. In competitive overseas markets international standards can help ensure your products and services are accepted into new markets – see for more details.

Ask for assistance. UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) and UK Export Finance (UKEF) both offer expert advice as well as case studies that demonstrate how SMEs from all industries have gone about exporting their products and services.

It is worth noting that The Department of Business Innovation & Skills intends to double the number of SMEs it helps by 2015. More money will be made available to attend trade shows and travel on overseas trade missions.

The old Harold MacMillan slogan “exporting is fun” was perhaps always a bit wide of the mark – but it can be rewarding if you decide to pursue it, and not only in the financial sense.

As prolific writer and former editor, Peter Bartram’s background in IT and Finance makes him the ideal person to provide informative content for SMEs – brought to you by Moneypenny.