How to make 2019 your year for export growth

New figures from HMRC show that the number of businesses exporting goods in the United Kingdom has increased to 110,000 - a rise of 1.5% from the same quarter last year. In the year ending September 2018, exports of goods from England alone increased by 3.1% to £247.6 billion.

Research shows that companies that export have increased growth potential, are more productive and have better paid jobs. Sara Knowles shares 5 critical success factors for making 2019 your export growth year.

1. Define your export growth ambition and question barriers

At the heart of success is having a strategic plan. This should start with consideration of what you seek to achieve in the year ahead and beyond. 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. Research, adapt and localise

Conducting thorough market research and 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 etc. and prioritise these.

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) and environmental factors (climate – influences on transportation, storage and sales seasonality). This can be achieved with the right insight and advice. The key to this is doing thorough market research.

3. Invest and innovate

Companies that invest in research and development, including via universities and overseas partners, are more able to compete overseas as well as in domestic markets. Insight from people on the ground in your target market ensures that your product or service offer is appropriate in new markets. Seek advice from your Growth Hub or International Trade Adviser on funded support available for international research and innovation initiatives.

Investing in an office or overseas operations (outward direct investment) can also help by, for example, being able to gain a strong foothold in a market, manage currencies, payments and legal factors more easily and take advantage of economies of scale. Establishing a local office can often be the key to localisation of the service or product development and helps to engage deeply with markets and establish competitive edge.

 4. Grow and nurture a team with an international mind-set

Create an export-ready team by considering your team’s skills and capability to do business across cultures - including experience of working in different cultural contexts and in languages other than English. Research shows that the importance of languages to trade and prosperity cannot be overlooked. Speaking the language of your buyers, whether it’s sales negotiations, customer service situations or when marketing, always pays off. It’s estimated that £48 billion of contracts are lost every year because of lack of language skills and a recent report from the British Council has outlined the necessity for investment in languages education in the UK to serve our trade and prosperity needs – worth bearing in mind when recruiting new staff to your sales and customer service teams.

Bear in mind that France and Germany were amongst the top 5 export markets in the Northern Powerhouse (alongside Netherlands, USA and Ireland) during 2017-18 in terms of value of exports and speaking the language of your buyers will go a long way towards achieving export growth success. Consider internationalisation of your website and seek professional advice on this. Always work with professional translators and interpreters too and seek advice on language, culture and content localisation for non-British English-speaking markets too such as USA, Republic of Ireland and Australia.

5. Remember, you can do anything – but not everything

Asking for expert advice and support can make the world of difference to your expediency in export growth and, ultimately, profitability. Speaking to a DIT International Trade Adviser could be one of the best steps you can take in this respect.

Our funded services, such as the Global Growth Service, can help you to overcome any perceived and real barriers to international sales growth and develop an export action plan that helps you to identify and enter the most appropriate markets for your products and services. We can also help you to connect with expertise from our partners and network of embassies and trade offices internationally and refer you to services such as UK Export Finance.

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.