It’s no surprise to find Brexit dominating the news again. With politicians and journalists obsessing over the small print of the Withdrawal Agreement, businesses could be forgiven for thinking that the next few weeks is ‘make or break’ for the UK economy.
The details of the deal are very important, but it’s crucial not to lose sight of the fundamentals. With the voices of big business dominating the headlines, less is heard about the millions of SMEs who drive the economy forwards – and in particular, the constant discussion of trade doesn’t address their needs.
Exporting can be an essential step in an SME’s expansion, and helping businesses to take their first steps on this journey is a major part of what Newable does.
We’re proud to be one of the Department for International Trade’s leading delivery partners, and, last year, our teams helped nearly 15,000 companies in London and the South East achieve £2 billion of new and incremental export sales. This year we launched the Export Engine, a consultancy service for companies who require more bespoke or in-depth support.
The CBI and the Government have both published exporting strategy papers in recent months and both identified that there are hundreds of thousands of UK companies who could be exporting and are not currently.
Exporting is not easy, but that does not mean companies should leave it in the ‘too hard basket’. That’s why we have been talking to our International Trade Advisors, and the businesses they’ve helped, gathering insight, expertise, and reflections. After countless conversations and interviews.
We’ve distilled this experience into seven “life lessons for business”.
From the importance of patience to making the most of being British, they’re designed to help entrepreneurs approach exporting with confidence.
(1) Be the best of British
Don’t underestimate the power of the British brand. Many of the experts we spoke to encouraged new exporters to be proud of being British – recognising that people can expect higher quality, and are willing to pay more for it.
(2) Size isn’t everything
When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to go for the big markets. But these might not be the right ones for you, and looking closer to home, or at smaller markets, might be better. Some entrepreneurs told us about unexpected opportunities in Guam and Senegal, for example.
While still offering profit, these less obvious opportunities can give you the credibility to move on to larger markets later on.
(3) Hands on works wonders
Many of the businesspeople we spoke to emphasised how valuable meeting in person can be. If you’re looking at exporting to the other side of the world, get out there and see it for yourself – you’ll get insider knowledge, and stand out from your competitors.
Remember, exporting is a contact sport.
(4) Beware of success
Everyone loves to secure larger orders, but it’s important to properly prepare for it. That could include investing in more people, infrastructure and supply chains. Don’t be taken by surprise!
(5) Be patient – but not too patient
As with anything, patience is essential if you want to make a success of exporting. Don’t expect instant results – you need to be realistic, and patience is part of this. Take time to invest in trips, make connections, and understand a market.
(6) Turn and face the strange
Different customs and languages can be a barrier, but can also be exciting – you need to be able to embrace them, and take the time to understand them.
(7) Piggyback if you can
Always think about partnering opportunities – it may be possible to piggyback on an existing situation in the market. Provided you do your homework, it can be an easy way of de-risking the export process.
We want as many businesses as possible to take on the exciting challenge of exporting – and to do so with confidence. Taking these lessons on board is a good place to start. You can watch the video series at: https://export.newable.co.uk/
It’s often said that SMEs are the backbone of our economy. But as Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade said recently, they also have the potential to be the drivers of our international prosperity.
Chris Manson is chief executive of Newable.
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