By Maggie Choo, General Manager EMEA, Alibaba.com

“Now is an excellent time for SMEs to start moving out of their comfort zone and start developing trading relationships with global markets. The weakness of the pound and the strength of emerging markets make international trading an area that UK businesses can’t afford to ignore.

“UK businesses must be more ambitious in developing in new markets. User statistics from Alibaba.com demonstrate that in the last year UK suppliers have maintained steady export levels with China, but have also registered interest from developing markets such as India, Pakistan and Ghana. In addition the UK is one of the fastest growing global markets with latest year on year growth figures for the region up 63 per cent.

“Having access to a constant and reliable source of quality products is essential to building and sustaining a successful business. The Internet in general and e-commerce specifically have made the whole world our neighbourhood and nearly every citizen our prospective customer. Alibaba.com was founded with the vision of becoming an enabler to help companies across the world get access to the best products and the best customers to help their business grow. Using services like Alibaba.com is great way for companies to get started.”

Export success: SME case study

Eagle Technologies

Eagle Technologies, the leading UK based supplier of customisable card ID printers, systems and consumables, has expanded its reach into the international market and is enjoying increased export profits thanks to the Alibaba.com trading platform.

Since joining Alibaba.com in 2005, Eagle Technologies international profile has vastly increased.

Today, seven per cent of the company’s business comes directly through Alibaba.com.

The platform has also enabled the growth of lucrative partnerships with other Alibaba.com traders – through an OEM partnership with a business that supplies cleaning products for printers, profits on Eagle Technologies Plus-Clean© brand have risen from 11 per cent to 80 per cent.

The business now has 700 dealer clients across the UK and EMEA and sells to every country in Europe.

Eagle Technologies has also recently been receiving new enquiries from and building partnerships with businesses in emerging markets such as the Philippines and India.

Chris Raynor, Managing Director, Eagle Technologies said,

“It’s fair to say that without Alibaba.com we wouldn’t be enjoying the international success we do today. Successful exporting and strong partnerships with international traders has enable Eagle Technologies to grow through the recession. Customers and potential partners from all over the work seek us and make contact with us when they are searching for products on Alibaba.com. I would absolutely recommend the platform as first port of call for any small business looking for new customers, partners, suppliers or simply for a more innovative way to grow their business.”

Some steps to successful exporting from Alibaba.com

1.Embrace differences: Many people worry about the cultural issues involved when working with a company based in a different country. It’s always wise to be sensitive to cultural differences, but don’t let those differences put you off getting in touch.

2.Get your finances straight: Get specialist advice on the financial aspects/tax implications of importing and exporting and make sure this is factored into the price you can afford to pay/charge. Be sure to clearly agree payment terms before any transaction takes place.

3.Know your exchange rates: The depreciation of sterling has boosted exporters’ profits as firms have not passed all of the fall in the pound on to their buyers. This remains a good reason for firms to enter the UK export market. According to the Treasury, the corporate tax measures introduced in the emergency budget and the subsequent release of resources from the government should further support supply-side activity.

4.Safety first: As you would when dealing with any new business contact, do some research. Check the background of the company. Are they members of a trade association or do they have any kind of verification/certification for the products they are developing? Do a credit check. Are they happy for you to speak to references? Beware of companies who just have a PO box or where the phone always goes to voicemail during the country’s standard working hours – bear in mind you may have to get up during the night to try this!

5.Make a plan to get your goods where they need to go: Factor in the time needed to export and plan accordingly. Don’t overpromise. You could consider working with an export professional to manage the process for you, especially if this is something you intend to start doing more frequently. Ensure either you or your supply chain partner has insurance in place to cover the goods whilst they are in transit.