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Five things you should know before exporting

Thinking of exporting? Preparation is everything. Here's five simple things worth knowing to help you on your way to overseas success.

Plan your business strategy

Before you start working on your business plan, refine your plans and goals for the business.

1. Where are you going to export to?

Research and preparation are essential. But the quality of your research is just as important as the quantity.

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. A single country or region trial could be an excellent learning experience.

Once you’ve identified strong localised demand and specific local challenges, you can amalgamate your findings into a five or ten year plan and focus your research on the countries you plan to start with.

Solving the ‘where’ bit of your export ambitions should be an exciting threshold allowing you to focus your thinking. It might throw up more questions if your research tells you answers you didn’t expect or want.

The important thing is not to rush. Make the decision on where to begin with a cool head and possibly the advice of your local Chamber of Commerce. There’s a lot you still need to discover, like:

  • 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 you 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.

Look at 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. You have to 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

3. 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.

 

  • 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 just some of the things you may wish you had looked into in more detail before exporting.

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 customer?

To establish a successful relationship with overseas customers you need to know what they need and how they think. They could be influenced by centuries old traditions, or local trends, or both.

Making an effort to understand different cultures can’t guarantee you success, but not doing so ensures failure. Everything from learning the language to reading the local news or buying competitor products will help you get it right first time.

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.

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.

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.


This guide is intended as general advice only, and not intended to cover specific circumstances and needs. The information in this article is also not linked to any of the products offered by Clydesdale Bank PLC.

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