International Trade

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How to prepare for a trade mission

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The latter is often organised in conjunction with trade bodies and UKTI, with banks being a key partner.

This article will discuss how to prepare for a trade mission in order to capitalise on that opportunity and increase your chance of export success.

UK residents made over 58 million overseas trips in 2013, according to ONS data. 37 million of those were holidays, yet an element – more than 6.7 million trips – were business-related.

Many of these visits are successful, with companies doing business as a result; however some of them are less effective than they could be. Just like everything else you do in your business, getting the most from an international trade mission takes planning and preparation before you get on the aeroplane.

It is important for business owners to understand that international business is not a rescue package. SMEs should have a successful and robust business model in the UK before thinking about doing business overseas.

Preparation for business trips and trade missions needs to start well in advance because much of the initial trip will be spent information-gathering. As they say in the military, “Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted”, and this is very much applicable to international business.

Three months before you go, make sure you set out a clear strategy detailing the ‘who, what, where, why, when and how’ of your visit. Business is rarely done on the initial trip unless deliberately orchestrated beforehand, so don’t focus on coming back with business – use this first visit to concentrate on thoroughly researching the market and meeting potential clients, agents and distributors.

It may seem obvious, yet you need also to make sure that you can actually sell your product or service in the market you are visiting. For example, Government regulation in various countries prohibits the sale of products like medicines or alcohol.

Be sure that you know who will be attending the trip with you and make all necessary appointments with people you are hoping to meet – and confirm these before you go, as attitudes to appointments vary widely depending on the country you are visiting.

Try to meet with your bank before you go. Business is about money and international business is no exception. Your financing needs will be different when you start trading internationally and you need to be sure you have the finance available to fulfil your international ambitions. Meet the appropriate UKTI international trade adviser as well – their connections and expertise are likely to prove invaluable.

Things you need to know:

Communication is the most important element of your success. Make sure you’re up to speed with communication channels in the markets you are visiting – do they have freely available broadband internet connections? Can you easily use Skype or Facetime? How widespread is Wi-Fi coverage, and is your mobile phone set for roaming in overseas markets?

Check the UKTI market report for the country you are visiting: this may provide vital information about how to do business in that market, and more importantly whether or not certain parts of the market are safe to visit

Check currency rates regularly: this is a business trip and you need to know what it will cost your business – this includes checking with your bank what the charges may be for currency exchange

Check the climate conditions and the short-range weather forecast: turning up in the wrong clothes can be uncomfortable, embarrassing or even – in some cultures – insulting

And do familiarise yourself with the significant cultural issues in your chosen market: don’t forget the influence of colours, body language, business etiquette, dress code and the importance of learning a few words of the language, even if only to greet and compliment

Things to remember:

Ensure you have a valid passport: many countries will not let you enter unless your passport is valid for a minimum of six months after your return date

Visas: find out what you need and make sure it’s valid for the correct length of time. In many markets you can simply have the visa stamped on entry – in some, you cannot, and will need to arrange a visa sometimes weeks or even months in advance

Tickets: for flight(s) and train(s), bus trips and subways – and remember to pre-book car hire if you need it!

International driving permit: This costs around £5.50 for a year and can be applied for through major motoring associations or at the Post Office in person. Make sure you’ve got your dates right – you can only apply up to three months before you want to start using your permit

Work out what equipment you need:  laptop, tablet, smartphone, memory stick(s), adaptors

Try to limit the amount of stationery, sample(s) and gift(s) you take with you:  in some markets you’ll need a permit to take samples, and lugging tons of stationery around is no fun. Do, though, take business cards – despite all rumours to the contrary, handing out a real card still resonates with many business people around the world

Currency: don’t be caught out – find out what it is, how much to take and try to order it in advance

Personnel: this one is often forgotten – if you’re travelling to a country where you need an interpreter or translator, organise it early

The old phrase, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is always valid, yet if you follow these tips you will be covering many of the key elements of your preparation. Trade missions are an important tool for business expansion and if you are lucky enough to attend one, try to be sure you make the most of the opportunity!

John Williams is head of Breakthrough, Santander UK

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