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How to run a low-cost international business

5 Mins

1. Cut your phone bills

Install Skype or a similar VoIP set-up and phone bills can be drastically reduced – if not eliminated. “Our bills used to be as high as £1,074 a month,” says Ray Doyle, director of Chirle Sourcing Solutions. “With Skype, it costs me 1.5p per minute to ring anywhere in the world.” Chatting to colleagues and other Skype account holders is free.

2 Slice staff numbers

“If your business can be mainly conducted virtually, there is no need to shell out on employees in all your locations,” says Neil Payne, founder of translation firm Kwintessential. “Look at using one location to handle the bread-and-butter work, focusing your staff on client liaison, sales and marketing.” Business angel Julian Ranger agrees that using local staff makes sense: “We always get local people doing the work. It’s good politics and good business.”

3 Localise marketing

Have flyers, business cards and websites translated by professionals to avoid any linguistic – or worse, cultural – clangers. And think about your specific requirements. A company such as Kwintessential will charge about £120 for translation of non-technical text into Chinese by a native speaker, but offers reduced rates if the aim is simply to understand a document.

4 Get government support

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) runs a Passport to Export programme, offering  support in visiting potential markets, mentoring from a local export professional, free action plans and subsidised training. The initiative helped one toy company clinch sales deals in 50 different stores in Brazil, and export to 40 countries worldwide. British embassies abroad can also offer invaluable advice.

5 Apply for grants

UKTI also offers grants – up to £700 – for companies visiting trade shows and checking out new markets overseas. To qualify, the company must be an SME and have a thorough business plan. Other opportunities may arise through UKTI’s links with other business support agencies such as Business Link.

6 Play on exchange rates

Exchange-rate fluctuations can have a massive impact on profits. Either set and agree amounts with suppliers/clients, or open bank accounts in euros or dollars. You could put in a contract clause stating that a fluctuation of more than two per cent either side will trigger an option to renegotiate. “The dollar has fluctuated up to ten per cent against the rupee in the past two years,” says Harjiv Singh of Gutenberg Communications. “It was better to have the clause written into our contracts than to fix the price.”

7 Transfer cash on the cheap

Two words: avoid banks. There are plenty of other options, ranging from online services like PayPal and Moneybookers.com, to using exchange-rate brokers. “Sending a payment of €1,000 would cost us £25 at the bank. It costs about £1 with Moneybookers,” says Kwintessential’s Payne. David Vine, managing director of Globalexpense, recommends Envoy as a “reliable and cost-effective” alternative, which he says saves him £20 per transaction.

8 Minimise overseas trips

If you have to go overseas, diarise your time effectively. No matter how glamorous the location, don’t treat it as a holiday.

9 Use travel agents

It may be counterintuitive, but using a middleman can save cash. Sarah Owen of the Referral Institute uses Travel Counsellors for her travel needs. “My agent knows my itinerary. He can call and say: ‘There are exceptional prices coming up. Any chance of moving that meeting’?”

10 Book flights early

If you can, book flights in advance. If booked early enough, a Ryanair flight can cost less than the airport tax. But shop around. Generous baggage allowances and reward schemes can make more traditional airlines better value. If travelling business class, think about upgrading rather than buying a business-class ticket. “For an inter-continental flight, they will never quote you less than $8,000 for a business-class seat. If you buy economy and upgrade, it will cost $2,000,” says Gutenberg’s Singh.

Read more tips on page two

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