John Davies – managing director of integrated security solutions specialist TDSi – explains the key considerations for those UK companies looking to export their products and services.
Making the leap from being a UK-only or EU-only supplier to a wider international exporter can be a daunting one. For many companies, such a move represents a significant deviation from their comfort zone and yet there are some very hungry and buoyant markets to explore around the world offering lucrative returns for UK businesses prepared to do their homework and provide the right products and services.
That said, when embracing new markets there are a number of key considerations I believe you need to investigate before launching into what can be a significant and potentially resource-consuming process.
Make sure your business is in a position to explore and leverage potential markets
It’s vital that your domestic business is robust enough to invest in new markets exploration. Much like the prospect of introducing a baby to an already strained relationship, a new export market can put a considerable pressure on a business in its early stages. Despite the promised benefits, it shouldn’t be considered as a way of fixing a failing business.
Some markets can require lots of time to research or network and this can be costly in terms of investment. Many Middle Eastern markets, for example, require direct commitments from suppliers and this will inevitably either involve regular travel to the region and/or maintaining a local office or representative to meet with clients.
At TDSi, it’s a market that we have found to be very rewarding, but also one that rewards proper investment and market understanding from its importers.
Don’t be frightened of cultural differences
While cultural difference can be intimidating at first, the process of researching these is much like that of investigating new UK markets. There’s a lot of help to be found for most markets, whether it’s UK-based assistance from the likes of the UKTI’s (UK Trade and Investment) Defence and Security Organisation (DSO), more specific sector-focused organisations such as the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) or more localised help from regional partners or Government agencies.
The practises of doing business can vary from region to region, but good research before any initial contact will prepare your team and business for these variations.
Tweaking your offering to appeal to new markets
Markets in different parts of the world can have varying requirements or needs that could require you to change product features, pricing, specification or marketing materials to fit. This could be down to cultural differences (some product features are required in some regions and not others where they could be seen as an expensive and unwanted addition) or the financial situation of the potential market (some regions require lower-priced or simpler products or services due to the local economy and requirements). Language requirements could involve translation needs (particularly so, for example, when other alphabets are in use!).
Products and services which fail to match these will struggle to make an impact on local markets.
Make sure your legal documentation and protection is organised
Before you enter a new market it’s essential to ensure that that you have all your legal protection in place. This includes agreements/contracts, of course, but also trademarks and patents designed to protect your offering and intellectual property from misuse or corruption.
Ensure that your invoicing and payment systems are firmly in place
There are financial hurdles to jump in any new market. The obvious potential issues are local taxation laws and currency changes, but you also need to ensure that invoicing and payments can be easily performed and that you understand any banking, taxation or financial regulations that might affect your local trading as well.
Prepare to be flexible
Just because you believe you have the best product/solution, don’t expect the entire new market to accept your proposition automatically. Sometimes you will launch into a new market and immediately find traction with customers, but often it will be the case that you need to fine-tune your offering to match requirements. This can take a while to produce the desired results and is where help from localised partners can be very useful in determining the best approach and ensure that you engage the market successfully.
Don’t expect results overnight
Entering a new export market should be seen as a long-term commitment and patience and persistence are essential. Launching into a new market and fine-tuning your offering to increase market share is resource-intensive and will require finding the right local contacts.
You need to be careful to find the right local partners (not automatically working with the first company that shows an interest) and to think long and hard about any actions (such as exclusivity agreements) which limit your access to that market, even if they appear to offer attractive inroads.
While my advice is designed to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of seeking and entering new export markets, I should also stress that the potential opportunities of selling into the right market often completely mitigate any risks. Simply selling your offering to your domestic market can make sense for many businesses, but when there’s an opportunity to diversify the geographical dispersal of your customer base it’s an excellent opportunity to avoid the risk of operating in a single market.
Much of the process of entering a new market is common sense and will require a similar new business skills sets to the one you will have used to grow your business in the home market.
When you do come up against less familiar challenges, it’s the perfect time to find the right local partners who will be just as keen for you to grow their business alongside your own.