For many British-based small businesses overseas expansion is the primary driver for growth. Some will look at international expansion once they have established a successful base in the UK, whilst others will start out with international ambitions. Meanwhile some small businesses will look to expand overseas when UK sales stagnate or an increase in competition affects market share.

There are clear benefits to growing in new markets. Research from the UKTI suggests that 85% of their clients believe exporting has led to a level of growth not otherwise possible. Market expansion may be a gradual process but businesses should plan for the long-term, remembering that the return on the initial investment could take some time.

So once a small business has decided to expand abroad, what are the key considerations they should take? We often advise companies on how to export effectively and one important consideration, however simple it may sound, is to undertake thorough planning. Too often some of the basic elements of beginning an export journey are not analysed at the start. Taking time to establish a strategy, and consider potential obstacles that you might face along the way, will make a significant difference.

Getting to know your market is an easy first step. To start, you can research delivery preferences and consider how you can offer customers in new markets an appropriate service. In the UK, customers typically prefer door-to-door service but in Germany, delivery lockers are favoured, for example. Taking nuances such as these into account can make a real difference to your positioning with, and ability to attract, customers.

You should also ensure that you understand all duties and taxes before you make your first shipment. Customers overseas often do not expect to pay additional fees on receipt. With Delivery Duties Paid service (DDP) you, the sender, can bill all charges back to your own account avoiding any difficult conversations with new customers.

Companies should opt for growth strategies that are realistic, to ensure they approach their expansion confidently. For some it can be easier to start their international journey in a well-established, English-speaking market. Ideally the chosen market would have a similar approach to doing business, which enables easy communication and should help to minimise the risk of commercial misunderstanding. Consider countries that have a similar consumer culture as this means it is more likely that your offering will be accepted by your target group.

Taking time to research and prepare will have a significant impact when you begin to export. Advice and guidance is available from partners such as DHL Express and the British Chambers of Commerce, so there is no need to undertake the journey alone. The benefits of exporting can significantly outweigh the challenges so I’d encourage all small businesses to start thinking about their growth overseas today.

By Phil Couchman, UK&I CEO, DHL Express