5 top tips to taking your business abroad

Exporting is GREAT: around the world in 5 steps

We asked some of the UK's top exporters to give us some tips for businesses taking their first steps overseas.

Man drinking milk

Launching your business overseas can be rewarding and lucrative - but it can also be pretty daunting. These tips may help you on your way ...

1.       Believe in yourself

“It’s essential to have utter conviction in your products and yourself”, says Ian Rutland, CEO of Miura Systems, which has sold nearly 1m of its handheld payment terminals since starting in High Wycombe in 2008.

“You’ll often be competing against domestic suppliers who may appear to be the easier or safer option to your potential customers”, says Ian. “So, not only do you need to have a compelling story to tell, you have to convey it with passion and conviction - your potential clients need to believe that you believe,” he adds.

Miura’s international sales have now reached £14m. The company’s largest market is Europe, but it is already seeing rapid growth in the US and Asia Pacific region as contactless payments increase in popularity.

2.       Do your research and plan your finances

“You can avoid many mistakes through rigorous market research”, says Mike Davies, founder and group CEO of vitamin manufacturer Principle Healthcare International.

But becoming a successful exporter also involves trial and error, says Mike, who described the process of taking his company overseas as exciting but challenging.

This means that financial arrangements must be carefully arranged; Principle Healthcare requests a letter of credit from new business partners, ensuring it won’t be left out of pocket. This back-up arrangement can be incrementally reduced as the relationship becomes better established.

The Skipton-based firm now sells its branded and private-label vitamins and supplements to more than 28 countries with international sales of around £4.6m.

3.       Find the right people

“Hire the right people, train and develop them, show them you value their contribution and build a strong reputation for your business”, says Dr Paul Clewlow, a director at Sygnature Discovery.

The Nottingham-based company works with research organisations around the world to discover new drugs, with biotech and pharmaceuticals customers in America, Germany, Denmark, and Australia, and grew overseas sales to £3.3m last year.

That care to building relationships with the right people also extends to clients. Paul, who is senior vice-president, business development at the company, says: “Focus on  pursuing key decision-makers in your target companies and don’t spread your efforts too thinly – email them, phone them.   But be prepared to get on a plane and meet them face-to-face.”

4.       Commit time and money

There are huge opportunities in China, but it’s a difficult overseas market to crack. “People have a fear of exporting and a fear of China, but the trick is to take that first step and be bold”, says Ed Salt, managing director of Cheshire-based Delamere Dairy.

The dairy, which started in 1985 with just three goats, was one of the first to gain permission to export liquid goats’ milk into China.

Its exports, which reached £5m in 2014, have benefited from increasingly westernised diets in the Far East and the strong reputation of British foods abroad. But it takes more than that, Salt says: “There is no guarantee with export markets – just because you have a good UK brand, it doesn’t mean that it will work overseas”.

“You should expect to spend a lot of money to establish a presence, which can take longer than many people plan for. Perseverance is therefore vital to achieve success”, he adds.

5.       Roll with the punches

“Be prepared for knock-backs – success will probably not come overnight, but when it does all the hard work will have been well worth the effort!” says Sygnature Discovery’s Paul Clewlow.

He adds: “Differentiate yourself from the competition, offer quality, go the extra mile, and be flexible. Fly the flag for the UK”.