By John Williams, Head of Breakthrough, Santander UK

The previous articles discussed how to prepare for a trade mission: a purpose-designed international business visit often arranged in conjunction with trade bodies, UKTI and partner banks. This article looks at the all-important work that needs to be done during the trade mission and the vital follow up needed to truly capitalise on the experience.

Attending a trade mission is a fantastic opportunity for your business – you can familiarise yourself with a market place in a way that cannot otherwise be achieved. It is important that the right business representative is selected to go on the trade mission: they need to be fully aware of the market they are targeting and the products and services they are promoting, and equipped to answer the questions a potential business partner may ask. You really don’t want any ‘tumbleweed moments’ during those initial conversations!

While holding meetings in the chosen destination, try to find out what the process and timescale is for follow up contact. Make sure you stick to any promises you make in relation to sending further information or samples once you return home. Being polite is always worthwhile, so do send thank you notes to contacts once you return home.

During the trade mission it is vital that you:
- Turn up on time to appointments – find out beforehand how long it will take you to get around and plan accordingly. It is often difficult to gauge your timing over distance in an unfamiliar city
- Be appropriately dressed – inappropriate clothing can cause embarrassment or offence
- Meet several different contacts, yet don’t think of this as just a numbers game – this trip is about creating the conditions for you to do business and it is vital to develop a network of valid contacts if you are serious about selling your product or services internationally
- Take an active part in networking and social events – developing relationships is often best done after the business discussion has ended
- Have a meeting with your bank representative – this may be someone from your bank who has travelled with you, or it may be one of their sister banks in the target marketplace. Either way, discuss with them how they can help you expand your business into the relevant market

After returning from the trade mission:
- Debrief your colleagues – let them know how the trade mission went, who you met, what the outcomes were and what the next steps will be – you’ll need their help, so try to get them on board with the opportunities. And accept the fact that they’ll all think you’ve been having a holiday!
- Follow up with contacts you made during your mission – send them any additional information or material requested during the trip
- Start refreshing your business plan based on what you learned during your trip – if it was successful and you are still serious about international business, refresh your planning for that growth journey now
- Follow up with your bank – let them know how the trade mission went, what your plans are for the future and how they can help. Many banks will have dedicated international specialists whose job it is to help you do business internationally, so make the most of this
- Strike while the iron is hot – you’ve invested time, energy and money in this experience so, whatever the next steps may be – do them now

The potential for your business in international trade can be exciting and the impact of it is far reaching. Research shows that trading internationally can make businesses more resilient to changing economic conditions, spreading their risk across a number of different markets. It shows that businesses which trade internationally have higher turnover, employ more people, become more productive and ultimately, succeed for longer in business. These articles will help you feel prepared to tackle and embrace a trade mission and really capitalise on the opportunities provided.