International Trade

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Ten tips for first-time exporters

5 Mins

1) Screen potential partners 

Make sure that you conduct sufficient research into potential partners before making any decisions. Too many businesses get easily seduced at the prospect of operating abroad and forget business basics. Safeguard your business by organising trade missions through the UKTI, where you’ll meet verified suppliers. 

2) Ask for customer references 

Request a customer recommendation from your perspective supplier. This will make you feel more confident in the supplier and in your business venture as a whole.

3) Know your market

Check out the competition and uniqueness of your product. International trade fairs allow businesses the opportunity to connect with existing and new customers, access key decision makers and discover best ways to infiltrate international markets. 

4) Market research

Spend time and money on conducting thorough market research and, if necessary, hire a specialist company to help you evaluate the market. Make sure the company is properly briefed about what you expect to find out and also the best route for entering the market. For example, direct to consumers, direct to retailers or through setting up multiple or sole distributors for certain regions or products, or with the help of an agent or manufacturing representative.

5) Leave no stone unturned

Conduct sufficient background research around legalities of trading in a particular country to make sure that you are fully prepared and compliant for the market. Use a primary support service like Business Link, the government’s online resource for business to investigate whether a supplier is, or needs to be, VAT registered for example. 

6) Keep a strategic focus

Don’t try and take on too many markets at once. Get to know one market at a time to ensure full market penetration. It is very easy to try and infiltrate a number of markets at once, for example targeting a whole continent as opposed to focusing on a few countries within it. 

7) Quality over quantity

Don’t cut corners and let your standards drop. Product recall is costly enough, let alone when it’s international. As companies expand and trade internationally, there is the danger of losing sight of product and service quality. Just because a product might be successful in the UK, it doesn’t mean it will have the success abroad. Keep tabs on your product that standards are being maintained. 

8) Chambers of Commerce

Get in touch with your local Chamber of Commerce to seek advice on relevant payment terms and paperwork needed for each country. For example, it is important to understand INCOTERMS and letters of credit, as well as shipping documents, which a freight forwarder should be able to help you with.

9) Industry trade groups

Contact your trade association to provide examples of companies that have been successful in exporting internationally. With in-depth knowledge across your industry, they can offer advice on how to secure quality assurance and guidance to success. They may also be able to suggest non-competing but similar companies that operate in your industry which you may be able to “piggyback” to enter a new international market.

10) Legitimacy of request

When trading internationally, businesses are likely to come up against cultural and language barriers. For this reason, ensure you are aware of the best ways of doing business and trading securely by speaking with professional bodies. Yell and UKTI have teamed up to provide vital support and guidance to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to expand internationally. The aim of the partnership – called Open to Export – is to provide a dedicated platform that enables UK-based companies to collaborate and share intelligence about export market opportunities, means of entry and participation.

Fraser McLeay, professor of marketing at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University. He has more than 20 years’ experience in international business, helping SMEs to multinationals with startups, international expansion and product introduction.  

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