6 steps to successfully taking your business abroad

There has never been a better time to take your business overseas. The weak pound means British goods and services are more attractive than ever – and there is a multitude of markets ready to snap them up.

However, making the decision to export shouldn’t be taken lightly – it involves investment, time and travel. But get it right and your business could see considerable growth.

Here’s our advice to help you make an informed decision before you set sail for foreign shores.

  1. Keep it simple

It can be tempting to tackle the world in one go, but you need to take small steps to ensure success.

Alison Sherwood-Bruce from Equilibrium Products advises to go for the lowest hanging fruit.

“Take on countries one at a time, rather than trying to attack the whole world in one go,” she says. “Because if the whole world came back to you, you wouldn’t be able to cope, so you need to manage your expectations.

“To start with, pick the easier markets – for example if you’re not good at languages concentrate on English speaking ones.

“Australia was a good market for us to start with, because equestrian sport there is similar to the UK. Also, their seasons are the opposite to us, which means we can prolong the sales of certain products.”

  1. Do your research

Research is key if you want your business to succeed abroad. You need to know your overseas markets as well as you know your home territory.

“Start with countries where you know a bit about the market,” advises Alison. “We already had a good relationship with an account in Australia, so we understood the products they liked and the people who bought them.

“We would love to export to Argentina, but we don’t know much about the sport there. You have to do your research.”

  • Understand cultural differences. The majority of export failures are due to cultural differences, which could be avoided with effective market research. “It’s essential you talk to the end user, so attend trade shows in the countries you want to export,” says Alison.
  • Make sure there is a demand/need for your product in your target market.
  • Know enough about your intended export market to be able to calculate costs, potential sales and the degree of competition your products will face.
  • Find out who your competitors will be and how actively they promote their products.
  • Look at the local government’s attitude to exporters marketing in that country. Does their government offer any incentives to import products and services?
  • Find out what support you can get in the UK. The government is urging businesses to pursue overseas trade and the Department for International Trade has a number of programmes to help with exporting goods.
  • Decide on the best route to market for your business (more on this below).
  1. Audit your company

Before you get started it’s a good idea to run an audit across your company to assess your ability to manage an export business. Look at finance, sales, marketing and manpower and consider your strengths and weaknesses. Then you need to decide:

  • Which factors will help you succeed overseas and which areas need to be tightened up to pre-empt any problems.
  • Will your product or service be relevant outside the UK market?
  • Are you prepared to adapt your offer to meet different needs in different markets?
  • Which currency will you trade in? This could be sterling, dollars, euros, or the local currency. You need to protect yourself against fluctuations in the market place, as these can have a big impact on your margins.
  1. Find the best route to market

There are many routes into global markets, and the one you choose will help determine your success.

The further you stray from home, the more important it is to have a route to market that allows you to supply your product or service in an efficient way to your new customers.

“If a country is far away it’s better to work with wholesalers,” says Alison. “If a product needs to be returned it’s much easier to do it with someone on site.”

There are four main ways to sell your product or service overseas:

  • Through agents and distributors
  • Direct to customers
  • Contractual methods, such as licensing or franchising
  • Setting up an overseas operation

To find the best route for your business, be prepared to do the research and get advice on what’s happening in your target market. When you start out you may have to use multiple routes to market before settling on one that works for you.

“When we won our BETA UKTI Export Award in 2013 we were purely B2B, but times have changed – so now we also sell direct,” says Alison. “It all depends on where you are going and what you are selling.”

  1. Tailor your marketing

Your marketing will need to be tailored or ‘localised’ to appeal to potential customers in other countries. This might simply be a case of translating copy and tweaking design, or it could mean a fundamental rethink of your branding and tone of voice.

“We have done loads of different marketing over the years, as the markets are constantly evolving,” says Alison. “You get to know the tone of voice and what products people want through the distributors you work with and by talking to your customers.”

  • Website design is very important: it needs to include the current exchange, along with delivery information.
  • Social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, have made it easier than ever to reach a global audience. But while they are free to set up, you need to invest time – which equates to money – keeping them up-to-date.
  • A marketing, advertising or PR agency, which specialises in the export industry, can help create a promotional plan to suit your needs.
  1. Make sure you can deliver

You need to be confident your company has the ability to manufacture, market and manage a growing quantity of products per month. The two crucial elements when generating a good reputation in a new market are your ability to deliver goods as promised, and great customer service.

“There is no point in making promises you can’t keep, so don’t take on the challenge of exporting if you don’t have the product or the capability to deliver,” Alison states. “You should never set off on the motorway unless you are ready for the long drive ahead.”

If you would like to talk to us about your export ideas and get some expert advice, please get in touch.