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As it stands, the UK is demonstrating some impressive exporting prowess, with British small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) making a positive contribution to reducing the trade deficit, by exporting more than they are importing. This was one of the main findings from the FedEx Great British Export Report 2015, which demonstrates how quickly exporting can grow a business and help pave the way to success.

Even though optimism levels are high in the SME community regarding exporting, a further finding was that support is still required in order to ensure success, particularly when navigating customs.

As a result, we’d like to share some practical advice to help get you started. These tips are designed to support you in getting your product to market quickly and efficiently, no matter where in the world you want to go, and will hopefully get you off to a flying start so you can navigate customs around the world with ease.

  1. Thoroughly review the paperwork
When importing or exporting goods, make sure you provide an accurate valuation to calculate duties along with a detailed description of the contents of a shipment.

The commercial invoice is probably the most important piece of paper for international shipping, and it’s vital to use the right terminology. Here are some key phrases to look out for:

  • Air Waybill - contract between the shipper and the airline that states the terms and conditions of transportation
  • Customhouse Broker - an individual or firm licensed to enter and clear goods through customs
  • Harmonised System Code (HS Code) - a universally accepted classification system for trade goods, used to classify products and corresponding tariff
  1. Get to know the local market
To achieve a real competitive advantage, you must be able to develop intimate knowledge of the local environment and ensure you meet the requisite local standards. Many countries already have documentation online to help companies build up their local customs knowledge, but nothing beats visiting the country itself. If this isn’t an option logistic companies, like FedEx, have a wealth of information available and a team of experts to guide you along the way. Ask your logistics provide questions such as:
  • Are there any country-specific events you could attend?
  • Are there any in-country contacts who could share knowledge?
  • Is there a local small business organisation you can join to get advice?
It’s also important to be aware of any local restrictions that could relate to the market you’re trading in, or more specifically a product you’re selling. There are some particularly unusual and surprising rules and scenarios that exist across the shipping market which, if you’re unaware of, could lead to potential faux-pas when getting your product to market.
  1. Do your cultural homework
As you get to know local markets, their economies and business potential, it’s also worth familiarising yourself with the cultural customs of each country as well. When it comes to business meetings, so much can depend upon the way you interact with people – and respecting their cultural rules and etiquette will go a long way in establishing prosperous relationships.
  1. Expand at your own pace
Expand your business at a pace that you are happy and comfortable with, and make sure you have the processes and support in place to make your product a success on an international level. Whatever your method, expand one country at a time to ensure a steady, more sustainable and controlled approach to growth.

Sourcing or selling goods internationally can seem complex; however, there are a range of organisations that can assist, from government agencies to transportation partners. Once you’re on your way, talk to your transportation provider to find out how tools can help estimate duties and taxes, manage documentation and gain up-to-date insights into local market conditions, to improve your efficiency levels even further.

Ensuring you are 100% ready and have the correct support network of advisors in place before entering new markets will enable you to better navigate customs and achieve real and lasting commercial success around the world.

By John Stoten, Senior Global Clearance Solution Specialist, FedEx Express