Time to set sail for foreign shores

What is it with British companies, why don’t they export more?  Despite being leaders in product design, patent registration and innovation we continue to import more than we export and have a massive trade deficit to show for it – £3.2bn in October 2009. Over the centuries we’ve been described as an insular folk who prefer to deal with our own.  So, maybe its fear or contempt for all that is foreign that’s holding us back?

How do you feel about doing business overseas?  Do you relish the challenge or does it fill you with dread? If you have a secret fear of export I bet you’re not the only one.

In answer to my opening question, I would wager that our lack of export activity is down to a combination of three factors; Ignorance of market potential, a fear of the unknown and a lack of know-how.  Whatever the reason, it’s now time to bring an end to these restrictive thoughts and set sail for foreign shores.  Here’s why.

The weak pound means that British products and services are up to a third cheaper to foreign buyers than they were just a couple of years ago.  Combine this with shipping costs which are down by 70% and the situation is positively rosy. Government is keen to promote export to British companies so subsidised support is also likely to make overseas market entry an attractive proposition.

And export isn’t just for the big boys.  The web and new media technology have made export accessible to us all.  In today’s environment, if your company is online you’re likely to be doing business overseas to some extent, intentional or not. The fact that the internet has become a key method of communication has reduced significantly the cost of marketing to multiple countries. Press releases can be distributed internationally via newswires and some companies (even within the cleaning industry) now use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with a broader audience globally.

So how do you get started overseas?
Start by running an audit across your company to assess your ability to manage export business and to pinpoint the preparation required.  Look at finance, sales, marketing and your product or service offer. Consider your strengths and weaknesses. 

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 of the UK market?  Are you prepared to adapt your offer to meet differing market needs?  What about your marketing materials?  It’s likely that they will need to be tailored or ‘localised’ to appeal to potential clients in other countries.  At a superficial level this may mean translating copy and tweaking the design while at the other end of the scale it could mean a fundamental rethink of your messaging.

While running through this process you may also uncover a need for training.  Perhaps your admin staff will need to learn about export documentation or your sales managers would benefit from a basic understanding of the local language or culture. 

Consider each aspect of the business and note down the key points which arise. Once the audit is complete you will need to apply your findings to country information in order to select the most suitable target market or markets. 

Good luck with your audit.  Next month we will cover market selection.

For a free international audit template document, email Ceris at ceris@cbimarketing.com www.clean.cbimarketing.com

As featured in C&M magazine January 2010