Drawing on the experience of taking ATG Access global, Gavin Hepburn reveals the key tricks for startups and SMEs to scale on an international market
Growing a business to serve international markets is never an easy task – regardless of the sector in which you operate.
It requires hard work, dedication and a lot of patience to develop and execute an effective exporting strategy that appeals to potential clients overseas.
Back in 2005, we decided to embark on a journey that would take our British-made security products to a global audience and we haven't looked back since. Here are my top five tips for startups and SMEs looking to do the same for their business.
(1) Do your market research
First of all, come up with a workable process to identify the most attractive export markets for your product or service.
Opting for the logical market in the beginning – i.e. one without a language barrier and with a similar local distribution model to your own – will introduce your business to dealing with the complexities of exporting before you tackle some of the more challenging markets. Plus, recruiting staff with export experience can help guide you through the initial process.
When starting out you may not be aware of all the support that’s available to you. For example, the government will reimburse half of your costs for market research trip.
(2) Establish a route to market
Establishing in-country partnerships is the most cost-effective way for a startup business to begin exporting. Whether that’s utilising their domestic distribution facilities or their full turn-key sales and after-sales service.
This way, in-country sales and marketing costs are carried by your partner as well as the shared payment risk.
This is also the fastest route to ensuring a solid return on investment as you don’t have to enter a new country and find customers directly or bear the expense or complications of employment and local overheads.
Any partners should hold stock depending on the product you’re exporting and also act as the local contact for clients in-country if anything needs addressing quickly. They have local knowledge of both language and culture and should already be connected to your desired client base.
(3) Explore the available opportunities for help
There is a wealth of support available for SMEs and startups looking to add an exporting function to their business.
Be sure to research any grants available, as well as part-funded trade missions to new markets, organised by the Department of International Trade (DIT), trade associations and even some banks.
For advice and support, check out the DIT’s article Overseas Market Introduction Services (OMIS), which comprises a network of trade specialists who can assist with finding overseas customers.
In addition, investigate export credit schemes run by agencies to finance domestic companies’ international export operations, plus exhibition grants as part of the Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP).
(4) Outline a clear market offering
Make sure that your product range or service offering is finalised before you begin to export. It’s important to ensure that this offering is suitable for the country you are targeting and that any necessary customisations have been completed before you present to your company and brand to the export market.
For instance, if the country you are targeting has different certification standards to meet than your local market, make sure that you achieve these to remove as many barriers to procurement as possible.
(5) Prepare your staff for embracing the exporting arm of the business
International customers need to receive the same high level of support and service as your clients do locally.
Therefore, your staff will need to adapt their mindset from a 9-5 work pattern to accommodating different time zones and different trading hours for new clients.
To develop a greater understanding of the country you are targeting, allow your team to travel there; nothing could ever replace face-to-face meetings and experiencing the local business culture directly.
What’s more, if you allow your wider team to travel and be a part of the export journey, buy-in from staff will be much higher and you are sure to receive a much more enthusiastic response to ensure your exporting venture is a success.