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Five things you should know before exporting

1. Where are you going to export to?

As with everything in business, research and preparation are essential to the success of your exporting operation.

Look at all markets you think will be suitable for your business. Identifying them in a prioritised list is a great start; concentrating on your top three for greater insight is even better. The world is a big place and you can easily stretch yourself too thin. It’s a good idea to start with a single country. Once you’ve gained some experience and have seen some success in that country, you can consider branching out.

Solving the ‘where’ bit of your export ambitions is exciting, but keep your thinking focused you’re your research poses more questions than it solves, you might want to reconsider that country until you’ve gained more experience.

The important thing is not to rush. Make the decision on where to begin with a cool head and get good advice. Gov.UK has a great section on exporting that’s well worth becoming familiar with. Getting advice will help you decide:

  • The best sales channels to use
  • Any modifications to advertising required for local audiences
  • Local laws and trading standards, duties and taxes

2. How are your going to sell

Again, remember to be flexible. Take local customs and preferences into account – remain open-minded and look at all your options. For example, there’s no point creating relationships with outlets when a sales agent could offer you theirs for a fraction of the cost.

Consider the pros and cons

  • A joint venture could give you local kudos straight away, and solve a lot of problems, but it could also inhibit the impact and perceived newness of your brand’s arrival.
  • Opening a branch is the most high-impact option, but also the most expensive.
  • Selling online is the cheapest but has its own specific challenges. The competition is fierce, not just with other businesses, but with indirect and unrelated distractions (like videos and games) all vying for the attention of online shoppers. Make sure you stand out for your target market.

Remember:

  • Always refer to your business plan – what suits the growth plan best?
  • Relationships are important – don’t gamble on anyone you don’t trust.
  • Never promise anything you can’t deliver – doing something badly is often worse than not doing it at all.

How are you going to get paid?

The way you actually receive payment will almost certainly be different for exports, especially the time it takes to come through. Getting paid is one of the biggest risks associated with exporting, along with shipping, so minimise it by taking the following into account:

  • Don’t go into the red - your cash flow will be tested, so discuss the implications with your bank or other affected parties well in advance.
  • Get it down in black and white – get everything down in writing, always.
  • Make export customers show you they are creditworthy – don’t be afraid to ask for a percentage deposit.
  • Currency exchange fluctuations could mean a great deal turns sour overnight. Plan carefully and learn from the success and failures of others.
  • Think about moving the risk of non-payment from the buyer to the buyer’s bank or – even better – to a UK bank.
  • Think carefully before granting extended credit terms – check credit reports and look at taking out credit insurance to guard against non-payment.

4. How will you get there?

Transporting your goods may have unique logistical challenges in certain countries. Local laws, the local climate and sheer distance are important factors to consider.

It's your responsibility to operate within the law. Expect something of a learning curve and always assume you’ve missed something.

  • Understand Incoterms – the internationally recognised rules and definitions commonly used in export/import contracts.
  • Have different pricing for different Incoterms
  • Make sure your contract defines (by Incoterms) which party is responsible for freight costs, insurance and import duties at destination.

Many documents required for export are generic, like:

  • Export invoices - containing a detailed description of your goods and the correct commodity code.
  • Standard transport documents - the carrier’s receipt for the goods with details of the contract of carriage and routing
  • Dangerous goods notes - if your products are hazardous.
  • Export licenses - not always needed, but worth knowing about.

If you need support with local export laws talk to UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). Common sense will go a long way in planning the initial transport logistics of your exports. Think through the journey of your product, and consider every eventuality. If you’re using freight services only use companies with a good reputation and always get insurance.

5.How well do you know your customers?

To establish a successful relationship with overseas customers it’s important to find out how they think, and what they need. They could be influenced by centuries old traditions, or local trends, or both.

Making an effort to understand different cultures is vital. One of the quickest ways to sink your exporting operation is by insulting local customs, so take the time to find out what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Everything from learning the language to reading the local news or buying competitor products will help you get it right first time. There’s also no substitute for engaging the services of a local agent who’ll not only guide you, but educate you as well.

Your product may actually have different symbolic or practical associations in different countries. Embarrassing errors – especially very public offence-giving ones – could hurt your long term prospects, and a native speaker will help make sure everything from your web copy to your packaging is spot on.

Why do some businesses get it wrong?

The road to export success contains many twists and turns, but one way of avoiding mistakes is to learn from other peoples.

One of the most common is simply taking your eye off the ball with your domestic duties. Painstaking preparation and a perfect export strategy are all very well, but you don’t want to let your local customers suffer as a consequence.

Another common mistake is making assumptions about local laws and customs. But if it’s the right time for your business, and you plan your export strategy carefully, there’s no limit to the opportunities awaiting your business.

When you’re sure that exporting is the way to go, it’s well worth kicking off with an export cash flow forecast. This will let you get an idea of the numbers before anything has been committed. You can see how it fits with your existing business plan and seek second opinions on whether it looks watertight.

Summary

Exporting your business is about more than just finding prospective customers abroad. It takes a large amount of preparation and hard work. More than that it will probably take a change of mindset; you’ll need to be flexible in your finances and thinking, and possibly be prepared to adapt the very nature of your business.

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