• Lucy Markillie
"Export growth: it’s the future" - Sara Knowles, International Trade Adviser

Whether you are starting up, scaling up or concerned about sales figures and how to sustain your business, the chances are that as a business owner, leader or sales director you are looking for new customers. Exporting can be the key to future-proofing your sales and business, but what steps should you take to developing an export growth plan?

Let’s take a quick look at 7 main areas of export growth planning and what you can do to get your export growth planning underway.

1. What is your export growth ambition?

This is a key question to get us started. Consider what you seek to achieve in the next 3-6 months; 6-12 months; 2-5 years. Consider anything that may be holding your back from achieving your full potential - often the answer is not a simple one to unpick, with numerous factors coming into play. Are the barriers you are facing perceived or real? Talk this through at team and board level and bring in a third party (such as an International Trade Adviser) to challenge your thinking.

2. Are your products and services suitable for exporting?

Most products and services can be sold overseas but may need some adaptation. This applies to both their design and marketing. Take a look at what your competitors are doing and also where your current leads and enquiries come from. – Does this give you an indication? Often you will need to adapt your offer to meet local market needs such as: language and cultural factors (packaging, labelling and design); legal (e.g. certification, licensing and export controls); environmental factors (climate – influences on transportation, storage and sales seasonality) but this can often be done with the right insight and advice. The key to this is doing thorough market research.

3. How do we get our services or products into overseas markets?

Finding the most lucrative routes to market can be difficult without market insight and people on the ground with local knowledge. Conducting thorough market research and specialist overseas market selection support can help you to avoid costly pitfalls and inform a strategic, rather than reactive, approach to exporting. Obtain specialist advice and support to gain insight into the most reliable and profitable routes to market e.g. via agents/distributors, targeted direct sales, e-exporting, licensing and prioritise these.

4. Your people

People matters span engaging your employees in your export growth ambition as well connecting with your international clients. Consider your team’s leadership and management capability, exporting skills, languages and communication skills.

Address any gaps via learning and development, recruitment and succession planning. Languages and cultural understanding are amongst the biggest barriers to international sales growth, but there are ways and means of overcoming these which I’ve written about here. Numerous funded events and masterclasses to support exporting skills and knowledge are provided by DIT and our partners and you can find out more about these via an International Trade Adviser (see point 7 below).

5. Finance

The chances are you have concerns about how to finance your export growth and how you will get paid by overseas customers. There are numerous options and it is well worth discussing these with your bank and accountant. There is funded support available via UK Export Finance and local business support organisations such as Access to Finance and the Department for International Trade. Obtain professional advice on how to manage currencies, payments and taxation.

6. Operations

When it comes to logistics, if you’re selling services this may be the least of your worries, but if you’re selling goods it will be important to plan your shipping, storage and how you will handle enquiries, invoicing and export documentation. Whether you are selling services or goods it may be appropriate to open an overseas operation and obtain legal, financial and HR advice to assist with this. You will need to consider how you will scale up production or your service delivery team to meet demand too – a nice problem to have!

7. Get professional advice and support

Speaking to an International Trade Adviser (ITA) is one of the best steps you can take. An ITA is an expert in exporting and provides professional advice and support in each of the above areas, enabling you to obtain deeper insight into new markets, how to trade effectively and profitably and overcome any perceived and real barriers to exporting. ITAs provide fully-funded export consultancy and link you to any additional grant-funded business growth support you may be eligible for and connect you with expertise and contacts in the UK and overseas. We can also link you to peer support networks, such as the Northern Powerhouse Export Champions. Find out how you can benefit by contacting info@tradenw.org

Author Bio: Sara Knowles, International Trade Adviser

Sara is an International Trade Adviser. She draws upon over 25 years’ experience working across global regions as a project manager, business director and international trade adviser. She writes and speaks about business internationalisation, intercultural communication and marketing and has performed on prestigious platforms including TEDx and Northern Power Women Live.

More at:

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/saraknowles/

Twitter @_saraknowles