By Sarah Shields, Executive Director and General Manager, Dell UK
We live in an incredibly globalised world, but expanding your business is always a challenge — especially when you’re looking to do so abroad. Much like engaging with potential investors, exporting often means convincing stakeholders, partners and customers that they should work with and for you. What’s more, it requires getting to grips with local policies, languages, taxes and customs to get things off the ground.
But incentives to make the leap are compelling. Expanding overseas isn’t just about growing. According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), it’s about survival. By extending operations abroad, businesses can gain an edge over their competitors and potentially own a market. Consider that the UK population is only 0.8 percent of the world’s inhabitants and you can immediately see the huge potential for business growth if you can get your exporting strategy ‘right’.
A great way to work through the potential pitfalls is to take advantage of support from the likes of the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) — a government organisation which provides help and resources to British businesses looking to make the leap abroad — aiming to double UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020.
But perhaps the most valuable insight comes from those who have made the move themselves — not only those who have exported outside Britain, but those who have brought their businesses to the U.K.
We asked four entrepreneurs to share their tips on working across borders, and here’s what they had to say:
• Talk to the Experts. Glen Dormieux, founder of Playrcart, a service allowing users to buy related products inside a video player, recommends talking to the UKTI who have offices worldwide: ‘You must be aware of local nuances including the cultural differences when conducting business in a foreign territory. And the UKTI are very happy to help. They want you to succeed and will put you in touch with their local consulate office who can assist in a number of ways such as local business insights and introductions’.
• Be patient. Different cultures and different companies often don’t move at the same speed so it is important work at the pace of your partners, as Dormieux notes: ‘Being patient is a prerequisite, but the rewards of a signed deal can be game-changing. Access to a powerful and global partner has given our business huge validation and an advocate on a global stage, and it’s granted us enormous local insight from which we can learn, adapt, and accelerate. The process will be lengthy, so be prepared’.
• Tailor your messaging. Your messaging may work well for one market, but how will it fare abroad? Will it resonate in the same way? Dr Kate Hersov, co-founder of Medikidz, a comic book series that helps young people understand illness and medical concepts, says that it’s vital to adapt to fit your target market: ‘We are very focussed on learning about regional cultures and environments, ensuring that our pitches and products are specific to the local market. The importance of the health of our future generation is something that transcends any barriers so we are lucky that our mission speaks for itself!’
• Be personal. Each country works and functions differently, especially when it comes to business. CloudStaff tries to overcome this by remembering one key fact: we are all human. Dr Sally Ernst, co-founder of global outsourcing services provider Cloudstaff, says: ‘Looking at growing your business internationally is made much easier if you remember that. We all have wants and needs, we all want to contribute to society, feed our families and feed our poor, and we all like to be appreciated. CloudStaff works in countries such as China, the Philippines, the UK and Australia. We have found ways of making this work, and so can other businesses. Working in a different market is, indeed, different, but different doesn’t mean you can’t adapt to it’.
• Get the right partners. Finding the right business partners to work with you is not something that can be ignored as Mete Ҫakmakcɪ, Istanbul Venture Capital Initiative, asserted at the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) 2013 annual conference: ‘You need the right partners, and networks are key…. Finding the right partners is very important and requires diligence.’
As with any business venture, exporting undoubtedly comes with potential pitfalls, but more often than not, the opportunities hugely outweigh the risks. By working together, sharing experiences and best practice with entrepreneurs, business owners looking to grow abroad can tap into a vast resource of knowledge.
As the business secretary Vince Cable stated at the British Chambers of Commerce conference earlier this year, there are currently 150,000 British businesses capable of sustainable exports that aren’t doing so — a huge loss (in the billions) for both those businesses and the wider economy. By celebrating and working with entrepreneurs who have success stories to share, it’s possible to inspire more businesses to overcome their doubts and dip into the exporting goldmine.