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A small business guide to export

Ready to send your wares abroad? Our handy tips will get you started.

Recently it was revealed that the number of small businesses exporting to South America has almost doubled in the last five years. Exporting goods is big business, and for SMEs it can be a launchpad for expanding the size and strength of your company. This short guide provides handy tips on how to go about exporting goods for the first time.

Understand what your product is worth abroad

It sounds obvious, but first and foremost you need to be crystal clear about the value of whatever you’re selling, wherever you’re selling it.

Are you filling a gap in a foreign market? Are you selling on the strength of a British brand? Whatever your reasoning for exporting to a particular international market, make sure you understand precisely how and why it will be desirable.

Research your markets

In time, you may well build an exporting empire that circumnavigates the globe. But to start with, you need to carefully pick locations that want your products.

The best place to start is at the government-backed ‘Exporting is Great’ website. As well as useful tips and advice, this offers an up-to-date list of specific exporting opportunities available globally.

Then, once you’ve established the areas that suit your business, conduct deeper research into them. To do this, attend events and visit trade fairs where possible, and try to connect with people who’ve successfully moved into the same markets – LinkedIn will be the most relevant platform for this.

Consider your routes to market

It may suit your business to go through an agent or partner – or you may be able to deal directly with customers by getting a licence of your own to produce locally.

Your route really depends on the nature of your business, your budget, and what is practical within the country in question. Consider all of this before choosing your path.

Understand the cultural differences

There are many aspects to this important point.

The very name of your product might not translate appropriately to the market you’re entering. The way you promote it might not resonate with this unfamiliar audience. The look and feel of the packaging could alienate your prospective customers.

Fundamentally, whatever it is that has made your business work at home might not work in the same away abroad. Again, it’s all about research, and understanding the culture and language of the market you’re entering in as much detail as possible.

Protect your IP

Patents, trademarks and designs that are protected in the UK are typically not protected abroad.

It’s a complicated subject but one you’ll need to comprehend before you export your products. The government’s guidance will help to get you started.

Make sure you can deliver what you promise

New markets mean all kinds of new challenges, but also new opportunities. Products that are successful abroad can become successful extremely quickly. To ensure your success is capitalised on, you need to be prepared.

Ideally, you need enough cash in the bank to fund any upscaling in production that could be necessitated. You also need the logistics in place to make that happen quickly – the warehouse capacity, the transport and the ability to transact smoothly internationally.

It’s important to not press the start button on your exporting journey until you’re absolutely sure you’re ready for any eventuality. Exporting really can make or break small businesses.

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