Small business guide to trading internationally

Dr Andy Harter, CEO of control software provider RealVNC, discusses the ins and outs of doing business abroad.

Making the move from being a local, or even national, business to an international brand seems an ambitious goal. Business leaders are all too aware of the trials and tribulations of setting up or running a business in their own locality, never mind around the world.

Running a successful business in any market is an achievement, the same skills, intuition and determination that made your business a success in the first place will put you in good stead for overseas expansion; understanding your product and market, building a customer base and brand following, satisfying and growing demand by selling quality products or services, and delivering and marketing your product/service in a way that is easily expandable.

In addition, doing business abroad is simpler than people think. The internet has dramatically changed the way businesses work. It has reduced the need for a physical presence in countries in which a business operates, creating a ‘shop window’ that can be seen around the world. Whilst creating opportunities for businesses to find and build relationships with overseas partners, distributors or customers.

Approach different international markets

Simple steps can make a huge difference to your success in international markets. Even if you are working out of UK headquarters, staggering working hours to accommodate customers in different time zones will go a long way to building solid relationships. You may find that giving staff the option to work earlier or later in the day suits them.

Researching cultural differences in countries you hope to target does not require huge time or financial investment but will make a positive impact to your international partners or customers. 

Maximising your online presence

Your website is your shop window to the world so ensure you are getting the right messages across to your audience. Time invested in developing your website, making sure the content is well written, targeted and the navigation works well, and if applicable developing localised sites, is time well spent.

In addition, focussing any marketing budgets you may have on online marketing, is the most cost-effective way to reach an international audience. You can attend international trade shows to check and refine your product strategy, and there is solid practical and financial help from organisations such as UK Trade & Investment when you are ready to get stuck in.

Recruitment aids international strength

As your business grows, look to recruit staff that can strengthen and diversify your language skills and international experience. Whilst it is not imperative to have the language skills for every country in which you operate, sometimes this can go a long way to building relationships and can save time and resources in translating and understanding materials for international audiences.

Use strategic partnerships to grow

Explore new markets and look at other businesses operating in your target areas. Strategic partnerships with resellers or distributors in different regions can be a real game changer. These companies have existing customers and relationships and can offer credibility and endorsement to your product or service from the offset.

Don’t be in a hurry to start offices abroad

Why go to the expense and distraction of setting up an office abroad until you are sure you need to? When the time comes, the best way to do this is for one of your senior staff to go for a while and create a beach head which allows your successful company culture to propagate. And beware transfer pricing and other taxation issues. Keep corporate structures as simple as possible, and don’t be tempted to play the currency markets.

Make the most of available support

There is a wealth of free support out there for ambitious businesses that want to grow. UKTI is a great source of support and offers a number of programmes to help a business grow internationally.

Simplicity is the watchword in all aspects of RealVNC’s business growth strategy. Simplicity requires constant attention and a firm hand on the tiller, it doesn’t just happen. But these simple steps, implemented well, are at heart of our growth strategy and have seen us experience real growth.

Related Topics

International Trade

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