Britain needs more exporters. Tapping into overseas markets isn't just a big opportunity to grow your sales faster, it's also a way to guard against an ailing domestic economy – if things go south in the UK, you'll be much better positioned if you've got a large amount of customers in stronger markets. But how can you get started doing business overseas?
Do your research
Obviously it's important to know your market, and there are many things you need to look into before jumping in feet first. 'You can't go for every export market, so it's important to go for the low-hanging fruit,' says Arnab Dutt, MD and owner of Texane, a manufacturer that exports escalator wheels and other components around the world.
'That could be [geographically] close markets, it could be English speaking markets where you've got more cultural affinity, markets where you know British products are desired. You need to do as much desk research as possible.'
Localise your website
When you make first contact with an overseas customer, the first thing they'll probably do is pop your name into Google. Make sure they find what you want them to see.
Bulk Powders is a brand of sports nutrition supplements, which exports around 35% of its total sales and has launched localised sites in key European markets. 'If you really want to succeed in exporting in a big way then that's definitey the road you need to take,' says co-founder Adam Rossiter.
'The idea is to appear like you're trading within that country – local language, local pricing, local payment methods, local delivery options and everything about it is as close as you can get to a company operating domestically within that territory.'
Make sure you will get paid
The same cautions apply when starting to do business with an international client as would with one in the UK. Find out as much as you can about them and their credit situation to make sure you're not dealing with crooks or a business which is about to go under.
'We do check references and very often unless it's a really big customer that we know we request pro forma payment on the first shipment,' says Ernie Griffin, the CFO and co-founder of Fascia Graphics, which makes and exports membrane keypads.
You should also look into how customers in other countries tend to pay. 'You shouldn't presume that just because everyone pays with credit/debit card or paypal within the UK that the same can be said of other countries,' says Rossiter.
Ask for help
There's no shortage of agencies and business groups looking to help British companies go overseas. 'If you're a small company, you've got limited resources,' says Dutt. 'So your first port of call is probably UKTI – it's very important to find yourself a good contact at UKTI.'
'There are some good trade associations where you can network with businesses that may be exporting to the regions you're investigating – so you can get some first hand knowledge of those markets.' The British Chambers of Commerce is also big on exporting.
Don't get caught out by currency fluctuations
Unstable currency markets can play havoc with an exporter's balance sheet. What you quoted as a price in Euros three months ago can be worth substantially less in sterling today. To some extent this is a fact of life but you can guard against it to some extent by using currency hedging, which effectively works like insurance againt changes in the exchange rate.
You can also mitigate it by being clever about what you do with your cash. 'What we try to do is if we're receiving euros we try to buy products with Euros as well, so it marries up that way,' says Griffin.
So there you have it. Pack your bag, grab your passport and go seek your fortune.