export-containers Image: Tristan Taussac/Flickr

For businesses looking to grow, exporting can be a fruitful business strategy and there may be more opportunities than you imagine. From high-street brands, to tech companies and even farming businesses like Mash Direct, exporting overseas can boost business prospects and could help your business grow by up to 20%.

As a Northern Irish company we’re used to “exporting” our products to the Republic of Ireland – a stone’s throw away. While technically classed as exporting, for us this was a natural route to take. It wasn’t until there was demand for our products in Dubai that we realised there were opportunities further afield. Who knew Mashed Potato would prove so popular in the desert? It’s all well and good embarking upon these opportunities but without the right knowledge, tackling a new country can be daunting.

When we started out, our knowledge of the export process was limited and so identifying target markets overseas was difficult. For UK businesses, Europe can sometimes seem like the obvious choice as it’s close to home, the markets are easier to understand and you could take a trip to investigate for yourself. While Europe boasts a good arena for British exports, the rest of the world shouldn’t be discounted with products and services in high demand.

Exploring avenues outside of Europe can deliver huge growth potential and are more accessible than you may think. For us, our business in overseas markets now accounts for 16% of our total sales so we can’t recommend exploring these opportunities enough.

Markets that aren’t your first port of call can reveal themselves to be most rewarding. Here are some points to note when boosting your business abroad:

• Target Markets

Identifying a target market requires lots of research, including learning the culture, economic and political environment to navigating the customs landscapes and getting to grips with potential competitors. This can be time-consuming but will be worthwhile in the long run; you don’t want to put all your energy into something that won’t work. Having a local contact with their eyes and ears on the ground is invaluable. The knowledge and expertise of our contact proved critical when we had to obtain relevant mandatory health certificates to export to Dubai.

• Exploring the World (Wide Web)

The internet provides a wealth of information; Gov.uk publishes overviews for nearly every country with specialist customs insight which will give a broad understanding. Focusing on one country at a time will ensure a measured approach to exporting and enable you to understand how to position your product in various markets – there’s no one-size fits all approach!

• The personal touch

Trade exhibitions are one of the most effective places to meet buyers and get to know global retailers. Face-to-face meetings are essential and the personal touch really goes a long way. As a family business, having different members of the family go and meet the buyers always goes down very well – it’s important for them to meet the people behind the business, and to witness passion for the product in person.

The demand for British products overseas is growing so there isn’t a better time to capitalise upon international opportunities and explore these ‘unexpected’ areas. Don’t discount interest from further afield countries, explore them and let your business realise its international potential.


By Martin Hamilton, founder and managing director at Mash Direct