The UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have long championed exports as a means to boost the UK’s lack-lustre growth. And with consumer spend set to remain sluggish this year it’s understandable these bodies are not pinning hopes on a domestic-led recovery.
‘The favourable international environment for British exporters, with a competitive exchange rate, is an opportunity that must not be missed,’ cheered David Kern, chief economist at the BCC.
But how do you know if this is the right move?
Tony Cohen, head of entrepreneurial business at accountancy firm Deloitte, says if a business is established and has a unique selling point then it should look into the possibility of overseas expansion.
‘Because of globalisation [and increasing competition] it’s important that organisations see themselves as operating in an international market. There has been more of an interest in expanding overseas now we are seeing slight signs of recovery and there’s not such an “all hands on deck” attitude to fighting the recession.’
For Cohen the key piece of advice is simple: do your homework. ‘Speak to someone operating in that market and find out what the challenges and advantages are. Also talk to potential customers and suppliers to get an idea of how operations will work once you are there. You will need to understand the employee culture and the nuances involved in employment law and ensure you have done sufficient due diligence,’ he says.
If this all sounds a bit daunting, Andrew Foyle, founder of educational products group BLi Education, which has offices based around the world, has some encouraging words: ‘Exporting is not as difficult as it sounds these days. Things like tariffs and duties are really easy to find online and there are trade agreements in place between most major economies, which makes the process fairly straightforward. The UKTI often provide support grants to companies looking to go out and do market research, we received one recently to go to Singapore and Malaysia.’
You don’t have to be a big player to have international expansion plans. Victoria Hesketh, founder of jewellery site Accessories Online, says by focusing on social networking and Google rankings she has been able to improve her export sales without having to leave the UK. ‘We don’t have a separate marketing strategy, but exports have been very important for our growth.’
Although expansion may sound like a gung-ho word reserved for ambitious entrepreneurs out to conquer the seven seas, there are some very sound reasons for diversifying your market base. Says Foyle: ‘I don’t want to attack the UK economy, or any economy, but by being in more than one country it feels like we are spreading our risk if things do take a turn for the worse in any of those markets.’