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Small Business Hero? Become a Big Business Exporter

Director for UK Trade & Investment London, Parveen Thornhill, on why exporting needn’t be the reserve of the big guns.

When you think of exporting, it’s easy to be put off. Mental images of crates stacked on cargo ships shuttling their way across the oceans  is enough to give anyone the impression that exporting is for the big guns– a distant dream for the future, perhaps, but certainly not something for a small business to consider.  Indeed, some people may already be exporting and not realise it. The fact is, as soon as you sell overseas, you’re exporting.

Perhaps this misconception is why only 32 per cent of SMEs in Britain are exporting, and thereby missing out on the bounty of demand for British goods and services out there. In my capacity as Director of UK Trade & Investment London, I’d like to reverse this trend so that small and medium sized companies can tap into global demand, boost their revenues and take their business to the world.

I’m always keen to remind businesses that exporting is accessible and an option for businesses of any size- from the smallest micros to the well-known brands. With developments in e-commerce; access to UKTI’s armoury of advice, funds and support and a good bit of old fashioned business instinct, the world really is your oyster (and, if you sell oysters, the world could soon be buying them).

I want small businesses like you to know that exporting not only boosts your revenues, it can help your business become more resilient, more efficient and more profitable. Research also shows that 59 per cent of companies who began exporting also saw it lead to a wave of innovation and fresh new ideas which enhanced their goods and services.

That’s why I’m setting out five top tips for small businesses- to show how you could soon be taking your business to the world.

1) Get help

Research shows that after just 18 months of working with UKTI, firms earn on average a massive £100,000 in additional sales. We at UKTI pride ourselves on this and, with the help of our specialist International Trade Advisers (ITAs), you be one of them. By speaking with one of our ITAs, you can build a bespoke export plan suited to your business needs.

2) Take things one step at a time

It will be tempting to pursue multiple markets at once but it’s often best to focus on one or two markets at first. Though it might be the case that you encounter lots of potential business opportunities at once, by focusing on one or two markets you can really get a foothold and focus your energies on getting it right.

3) Show me the money!

Once you’ve found your ideal market, it’s important to get to know the currency you will be dealing with. Consult foreign exchange providers as they have a wealth of experience and knowledge. Speak to your Bank as well as your International Trade Adviser about letters of credit and export finance.

4) It’s the little things that make a big difference

Failure to take account of different cultures may lead to damaging or costly mistakes. This could range from causing offence by not observing protocol to using inappropriate packaging or marketing. In Japan, for instance, never put someone’s business card in your back pocket as it’s considered rude. It’s best to take it in your hand and acknowledge it with a slight bow. Cultural faux pas are numerous, but with research and some gentle advice from your trade adviser, it’s a minefield you can easily navigate!

5) Good things come to those who wait

Setting up overseas may not move as quickly as you expected; local customs and legislation can often slow things down. But, if you remain patient the rewards will very soon make themselves known to you.

So, the first step is clear: pick up the phone and call UKTI on 44 (0)20 7215 5000 or email export@uktilondon.org.uk to speak to one of our excellent trade advisers and begin your exciting journey towards international success. It’s high time for small business heroes to become big business exporters!