UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) held another Export Week recently, and to mark the  occasion a panel of eight experts answered your questions about exporting during a live Q&A. Here’s what the panellists had to say:

Biggest obstacles

The Q&A kicked off with a question about the main obstacles small firms face when they start exporting. Simon Meredith from Freight First said export documentation “is a major issue for most small businesses. It’s important to get accurate guidance and assistance from an experienced, trusted source.”

Jodi Huggett from 4eco said currency was another obstacle. “Understanding currency and knowing the appropriate ways to tackle due diligence checks is essential. Organisations such as Creditsafe can provide this service at a hugely cost-effective price. This allows you to check credit levels and understand your export relationships with a trusted partner.”

Lesley Batchelor, director general of the Institute of Export, said exporting should not be seen as an “add on” as it takes a lot of skill: “It’s high time we stopped pretending that there is no skill involved in international trade – our members are all highly skilled and competent in international trade.”

Perceived cost

The issue of the cost of exporting was brought up several times during the discussion. Paul Galpin, managing director of P2P mailing, said: “Whilst engaging with customers overseas gives online retailers an opportunity for growth, some tricky decisions need to be made before rewards can be reaped. For example, what are the direct costs of cross-border delivery and identifying other related costs, such as duties and taxes and how to deal with these? How best to ensure the highest quality consumer experience with the delivery process and how will you manage returns? (Research shows that 74% of consumers review the returns policy before committing to buy.) Consideration needs to be given to identifying these and managing them carefully.”

Huggett and Batchelor stressed that visiting the countries you want to export to is essential: “Taking the next step shouldn’t be rushed,” said Huggett. “You need to make sure that the decision is right for your brand. UKTI can be so helpful with this, funding flights and hotels, as well as supporting on due diligence checks and arranging meetings with the relevant government departments. Be warned, though, this isn’t a ‘quick-win’ process – take your time and plan properly to guarantee success.”

Challenging export countries

Meredith said Russia can be a challenge. “Russia traditionally has a difficult border process. However, with good planning, it can be an extremely lucrative market for the UK.” Galpin added that the rewards are great for exporting to countries that are perceived as challenging destinations: “There has been lots of talk in the media about accessing markets like Russia and China that represent a huge opportunity for online retailers, but it needn’t be as complicated as some people say. It’s all about getting the right advice and expertise involved early in the planning process from people that are already managing distribution to these countries.”

Batchelor cautions first-time exporters about Brazil: “Brazil has the most complex import tariffs that can make it very difficult to make a profit unless you manufacture locally.”

Testing the water

When asked if the panel had any tips for testing the water before taking the plunge, Kate Pinkerton from UKTI said: “A really valuable piece of advice is to make contact with the commercial officers at the British embassy in your target market. They will have up-to-date market information.” Charles Baughan from Westaways Sausages added: “Pick a market where you feel there is a real opportunity, visit it, maybe attend a trade fair. We spent 10 days assessing the market in Hong Kong and it was invaluable. Exports do not happen overnight.” Simon Meredith’s tip was to do a sample run before the real thing: “Sending a small, trial sample product before committing to larger volumes is a cheap and cost-effective way of learning both the export process and identifying if there is a bigger market for your product.”

Overcoming cultural differences

Some business owners worry that they might make a cultural faux-pas, but luckily our panel had some great tips. Simon Meredith recommended UKTI as a first port of call for finding information about other cultures before you export. Jodi Huggett warned about being culturally sensitive: “It is essential to be understanding and knowledgeable about cultural differences. This can win or lose an export contract. Whoever in your team is dedicated to building these relationships must read up on local sensitivities and trade processes – doing things ‘the way we do them in the UK’ isn’t the right approach and can seriously damage your brand.”

Pinkerton agreed: “As each market is so different, again, I’d recommend speaking to an international trade adviser and through them the commercial team in your target market. UKTI regularly runs events around the country focusing on doing business overseas and how to manage cultural differences effectively.”

Galpin said of overcoming cultural differences: “This is an essential consideration in terms of selecting appropriate delivery and return services within any given country. You have to understand consumer preferences in this respect to maximise the chances of them buying from you in the first place. The final mile experience of the consumer will be key to them coming back for more.”

The article was taken from The Guardian and written by Eleanor Ross to whom we are very grateful.

This content has been sponsored by UPS, whose brand it displays. All content is editorially independent.


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