Export tips for small businesses

By Jess Shanahan

The RSA recently commissioned a survey that looked at how SMEs felt about the threat of the UK breaking away from the EU. Alongside the information that 82% of small to medium businesses see Europe as important to their continued growth, the RSA gave advice on how these businesses can start to export into emerging markets.

Expand: your network by speaking to as many SMEs, trade bodies and associations about your ambitions as you can, and attend relevant support and information groups, seminars and events – both online and in your region. Don’t forget that importers looking to do business in the UK can be a great source of advice about doing business in their own home market.

Exchange ideas with others to inspire new ways of achieving your ambitions. You can learn a lot from other people’s successes and failures. Identify peers and leaders who have been successful in your chosen market and ask them to become mentors or informal advisors to your business – a couple of hours with someone who has done it before can help make your plans much more realistic. UKTI runs specific and regular events, which could be the perfect opportunity to network and share.  

Protect: As your business grows, your risk profile changes so you need to know what your new risks are and how to manage and mitigate them. Speak to a specialist insurance broker or insurer about your growth ambitions, and work together on creating a global risk management plan to help you protect your business and your personal liability, at home and abroad.

Observe different cultures and customs, and make sure that you understand how business is done in different markets. This covers everything from national and religious holidays to special requirements for foreign businesses setting up there, and less familiar risks like bribery and corruption, IP infringement, employee safety and environmental risk. Remember that cultural differences can be just as important as financial and regulatory compliance.

Resilience: Be prepared to staying in your chosen market for the long haul. Finding good customers and partners can take time, and walking away too early could mean losing your investment and missing out on big opportunities. Consider how you can finance your plan over the medium to long-term, and how you can ensure your core business remains successful while you pursue ventures elsewhere.

Trust your instincts; if something doesn’t feel right, go back and look at it again and seek advice until you’re happy that you’re heading in the right direction. It’s important that you know your international business as well as your business at home, so don’t be afraid to ask basic questions. Likewise, work with an insurance broker to protect your business against as many risks as possible – you only want to take the risks that will help you to reap rewards. 

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