For businesses looking to scale online and export around the world, it can sometimes be tricky to know where to begin.
You need to make sure your intellectual property is order, make your products discoverable and trustworthy for a completely new audience, and work out how to ship it to them.
This week entrepreneurs from across the North East attended the Amazon Academy in Newcastle to hear insights and guidance for those looking to tackle these scaling challenges.
Here are our top six takeaways from the day.
Lesson 1 – Put yourself out there
During the “Meet the Experts” panel, our own editorial director Praseeda Nair gave the audience the opportunity to pitch their business for a profile on Real Business. In the packed hall, only one business owner was brave enough to stand up and pitch in front of everyone.
Liza Johnson from the Tea Enthusiasts pitched her business which is run by four generations of women from the same family – Real Business has reached out to Johnson for a case study, so watch this space!
Lesson 2 – Invest in yourself and pay for marketing
Co-founder of sustainable tissue products brand Cheeky Panda, Chris Forbes, explained that getting the balance between paid advertising and building good customer reviews is crucial when selling on Amazon – especially for products like his.
“We don’t make a lot of money per product, so we’ve got to sell an awful lot of tissue…we always knew it was going to be a volume game for us,” he explained.
Cheeky Panda is a bestseller on Amazon, so his product is easily discoverable. In the early days of the business, the decision was made to invest in advertising – this promoted Cheeky Panda within the page, got them the early reviews and helped them start to trend.
Lesson 3 – Consider a trade mission
There is plenty of support out there for UK small businesses looking to dip their first toe in export waters. The Department for International Trade has a national network of 1-2-1 advisors and can help entrepreneurs with export planning, market research, overseas trade missions, regional events and webinars, trade fairs, introductions via embassies, digital marketing and ecommerce.
“We have a programme of overseas missions where we can take you to some European and global destinations. They tend to be sector-led,” explained Sue Beverley, an ecommerce advisor at the DIT.
In January, Beverley took a group of 15 homeware and lifestyle businesses to Paris for a trade show. The businesses learned how to work with French agents and what terms and conditions they could expect.
“And actually, last year, that was for the princely sum of £99,” said Beverley. “They got three nights’ accommodation, a flight, and the support of the embassy and the trip to the trade show – so it was pretty good value,” she said.
Lesson 4 – Check your IP even if you don’t invest in IP
Michelle Bishton, director at Vault IP, was on hand to offer advice about intellectual property and took part in the Meet the Expert panel.
Of course, if you can afford it, getting your intellectual property locked down is a good idea. But even if you can’t afford a patent or a trademark, you shouldn’t bury your head in the sand.
“One of the first things you should do when you’re thinking about a company name is to check that its free for use and registration,” said Bishton.
“There is a search on the Intellectual Property Office website, you can do an identical search of similar search. If nothing comes up then don’t be fooled to think that that’s a really extensive search – there still could be other things out there – but it’s a really good starting point, and it will identify any major problems.”
Lesson 5 – Nail your logistics
For businesses looking to go global, logistics can be a hurdle, and deciding whether to go in-house or outsource is key.
Amazon offers a Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) service, where they store, pick, pack and ship products on behalf of smaller businesses, as well as handling customer service in the local language. This helps growing business reach new customers in 180 different countries, and enables them to focus on their products and other parts of their business,
Through FBA, small business sellers can become Prime-eligible, which helps products to be discovered by Amazon’s most loyal and active customers.
Lesson 6 – Think global, act local
Lastly, it’s great to think global, but wherever and whoever you’re selling to, you need to build trust.
If you were shopping on Amazon and the product listing contained typos or poor translations, your confidence in the seller might plummet – it’s worth keeping in mind as you build your presence overseas.
For example: “There’s Barf in Iran which was washing power, Pee Cola for Ghana which I don’t think we would really want to drink in the UK, and Urinal which was tea from the Czech Republic… we’re here to help you avoid those costly errors,” said Beverley.
These were the top six lessons from the day, but stay tuned for more coverage of the event and workshops, and interviews with experts and businesses featured on the day.