There are no two ways about it — the world is becoming a smaller place, and failing to look beyond the borders of your own country means that you are putting yourself at a great disadvantage. A survey from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) has looked into the topic further, finding companies that export overseas see a 34% increase in productivity within the first year, and are 11% more likely to survive into the future.
However, despite the proven benefits of exporting, the Office for National Statistics’ latest Annual Business Survey found that only 15.1% of UK businesses were offering their products and services outside of the country. In spite government campaigns, such as the recent Exporting is Great promotion, which encourages companies (especially SMEs) to explore opportunities elsewhere, the number of businesses following this advice remains relatively low. Why is this the case?
Experts have attributed the lack of companies exporting to a number of reasons, including language barriers, cultural problems, and the administrative hurdles that have to be cleared when setting up an overseas operation. These problems can be off-putting for smaller enterprises, who often believe they don’t have the resources to tackle an export project.
There is also a lot of uncertainty surrounding Britain’s departure from the EU, and some of these Brexit fears might be putting off many companies from taking the plunge until the dust has settled on the whole issue.
Another insight worth considering are the results from a survey carried out by YouGov on behalf of EasyJet, which revealed 56% of SMEs believe that the government aren’t doing enough to help them make the leap across the water. Though there has been much work done by UKTI to try and get businesses exporting, the majority of respondents to the survey clearly don’t feel that they are providing enough guidance and not doing enough to increase awareness of the assistance on offer.
Here at OSE European, we started out as a modest scooter courier service, and it was by offering our services to the wider European market that we were able to grow the business. So, if you are one of those SMEs that are on the fence about exporting, I may be able to offer some valuable advice about how you can take your first steps into the overseas market based on my own experience.
Seek advice from experts
Planning and executing a move into an overseas market can be an incredibly daunting prospect, which is why so many SMEs avoid doing so. However, as we’ve discussed, there is help out there that you can access, and it doesn’t involve having to spend valuable resources on hiring expensive consultants. The UKTI (and their Great campaign) is always there to help enterprises who want to export, and you can also seek guidance from your local Chamber of Commerce too. You can often pick up free initial financial advice from many UK banks, and it’s also worth researching any organisations that may specialise in exporting within your sector.
Research and plan your first moves
Whichever way you look at it, a move into exporting requires a lot of planning for the pay-off to be worth it. You need to do a lot of research about your target markets, who you are going to sell to, and how you are going to get started.
There is also a lot of reading up to be done on any rules and regulations you need to abide by when trading. The government has a guide to exporting and doing business abroad, which can help you to work your way through the red tape controlling your project.
Finding potential partners for business
If you are a small-to-medium-sized enterprise, the likelihood is that you won’t be able to begin exporting alone. Whether you need to find someone to distribute your products locally, or you need to find a warehouse option before supplying your new market, you will need a helping hand.
When sounding out potential partners, take the time to get to know them and how they go about things before going into business. Although email and teleconferencing have made it very easy to connect with people abroad, there is no substitute for an in-person meeting where you can get a clear picture of who they are and what their facilities are like.
Once you have a well thought out and thoroughly researched plan in hand, you can begin your project with a keen sense of purpose and direction. Take on board some of my advice and you will be one step closer to enhanced productivity and growth through export.
Peter Hunt is the Managing Director at OSE European, a logistics company that has enjoyed great success over the past few years while expanding their goods and services to the continent