Experts and entrepreneurs from around the UK gathered on 11 October at World First’s inaugural Think Global summit in London to discuss how SMEs can get on their way to exporting success. The flagship event highlighted the growing opportunities of global trade and provided practical solutions to address the barriers facing businesses aspiring to export internationally. Read on to discover the top six tips the experts shared.
Mark Garnier MP: There has never been a better, or easier time to start exporting
Mark Garnier MP, parliamentary under secretary of state at the newly formed UK Department of International Trade opened the summit with a forward-looking message. “We’re not just open for business,” he said, “we mean business.” And, with a whole-of-government approach working hard to champion UK PLC and break down barriers to exporting success, he invited businesses to seize the opportunity and join a national movement of exporting. Now, more than ever before, financial support exists for SMEs looking to expand, added Gordon Welsh, discussing the many new initiatives and products available from UK Export Finance.
Ed Vaizey MP: Embrace digital to reach exporting success
The rise of ecommerce is levelling the field for businesses of all sizes as you no longer need a store front to gain access to international markets. The UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to digital take-up with one in five businesses already selling online, commended Ed Vaizey, MP for Wantage and formerly minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. “Marketplaces are changing the game for vendors to sell in new territories,” added Jesse Wragg of Intercultural Elements, going on to describe online marketplaces such as Amazon, EBay, Cdiscount and Newegg as growth engines. A strong marketing campaign can also help to improve your digital visibility and aid you in reaching new customers online, concluded Gori Yahaya of Google Digital Garage.
Anthony Fletcher: Dip a toe in the water before you commit
Founders of successful SMEs shared their individual experiences of cross-border growth and accentuated the importance of conducting market research and testing opportunities on a small scale before commencing full operations abroad. Anthony Fletcher, CEO of graze.com explained how he undertook a quarter million-pound minimum viable product test in the US before moving into this market. There are, of course, much less expensive methods to test your product or service abroad. Charlotte Chung of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) advised working with a local agent on the ground who knows the cultural intricacies.
Jonathan Quin: Always respond with agility
Agility is paramount to success, the experienced exporters agreed. As you gather information and determine what works and ultimately what doesn’t, you have to be prepared to move quickly. “It’s all about economies of scale,” explained Cecile Reinaud, Founder of celebrated maternity clothing line Seraphine, “You have to adapt, but don’t completely reinvent yourself in every market or you will fail.” Further, you have to be willing to take considered risks, advised World First’s own CEO, Jonathan Quin. You’ll remember your exporting success long after your challenges have been forgotten.
Julien Callede: Be mindful of local and global tensions
Julien Callede, co-founder of ecommerce furniture business Made.com shared his international expansion story, explaining how cultural differences in the way people prefer to pay in Italy and Germany created challenges for his company. His advice: be mindful of the ins and outs of each new market you go into and hire a local team to support you along the way. Embrace brand Britain, which is highly regarded around the globe, wherever you can and balance the essential elements of your company with the demands of new markets.
Jeremy Cook: Implement an informed currency strategy
When expanding your business abroad, putting a currency strategy in place is crucial to supporting and protecting your growth plans. This is especially pertinent at present, explained Jeremy Cook, World First’s chief economist, with sterling at close to 24 year lows. As soon as your business extends across borders, it takes on risks and with a number of volatility drivers on the horizon from Brexit to US and European elections, international businesses must be prepared if they want to achieve exporting success.
World First and Cebr’s recent report reveals that less than one fifth of UK SMEs currently export compared with over 40 percent of large businesses, leaving a £141.3bn export shortfall in the UK economy. But now, pronounces David Clementi, chairman of World First and former deputy governor of the Bank of England: “The opportunities are out there and you could be too.”
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