Post-Brexit, the exporting landscape has become more challenging.
Post-Brexit, the exporting landscape has become more challenging. SMEs need to understand that doing business overseas means that founders need to ask themselves some fundamental questions
Ambitious businesses are looking beyond their own shores to trade with the rest of the world. The UK still has a great reputation for manufacture and innovation, which places businesses in a good position: high quality and the latest technology are always in demand.
To help you get your products seen in a new territory, you will need to make sure that it is compatible with regulations and infrastructure such as electrical supply in the intended market. A redesign may be necessary, with attending costs. You will also need to make sure there is opportunity and demand for your product. And you will need to invest in marketing, possibly in a foreign language.
All of this may sound intimidating, but there is help: consulting firms will be able to advise you on what you need to do to enter a particular market. There are products such as specialist bank accounts to help you deal with customers in different currencies. And there are many funding options: grants for companies with their sights set on foreign markets and venture capitalists who see the opportunity to grow a small business in a global marketplace.
Every business is going to have specific needs, opportunities and barriers to achieving success in foreign markets. My personal view is that you don’t achieve success by half measures: if you see a problem, throw everything you’ve got at it. Here are a few things that are worth considering before you take the plunge.
If you are planning to do business all over the world, you need to be available to talk to customers when they need to talk to you, and that means having a 24 hour operation.
Much of this can be taken care of by ensuring that your online customer journey works smoothly.
If you are just selling a product, responding to an email may be good enough. If there is an element of service or aftercare, however, you may find that it is necessary to have a presence in other timezones or operate a contact centre through the night.
Fluctuations in currency will change the margin at which your overseas sales operate. Be very careful of setting your prices so that a change in the exchange rate does not wipe out your margin.
You should know the point at which you are no longer prepared to absorb losses, even if it means losing a sale.
You may wish to consider a bank account that gives you a special rate on currency exchange, or which allows you to hold funds in the same currency in which they were paid.
While English is the lingua franca of business the world over, for some territories you’ll need to invest in colleagues with native fluency: Chinese markets, for example, have a set of rules all their own and you’ll need someone who understands them if you hope to navigate tem.
For other customers, a fluent speaker in their language is a courtesy - but can you afford someone on the ground in every country you do business with?
Centralising your communications is one answer. There are two locations that have a great reputation for languages: one is Poland. Base your contact centre in Poland, and you will find that you have a workforce gifted in language skills covering the region and beyond.
The other great location for multilingual workers is London. The UK’s capital attracts people from all over the world and if you base your contact centre in London, you’re more likely to be able to find staff comfortable communicating in more than one language.
Beware that your business dealings may fall foul of political interference: recent sanctions on Russian assets for example, are intended to hurt the Kremlin, but they will also hurt any business that has been chasing an invoice from a Russian customer.
You don’t need to be doing shady deals with despots to find your activities curtailed. All trade is ultimately a risk; be aware of what these are in your specific circumstances and mitigate them as best you can. Professional advice is available.
There is no doubt that doing business around the world is exciting: Swoop is an Anglo-Irish company, so being international is in our blood. But we didn’t have to worry about language barriers, or a massive time difference - until we opened offices in Sydney and Toronto.
Businesses that rely on IP will find the barriers to overseas trade are lower than, for example, a manufacturer of electrical goods, but I’m a firm believer that every problem has a solution. SME founders just need the right support, deep enough pockets to do it properly and a big enough ambition.