Many businesses become exporters almost by accident. Although they have a website and perhaps also market themselves via social media, it might still come as a surprise when one day, an inquiry arrives from an overseas customer. While this is undoubtedly a positive move forwards, a business will face very immediate and unfamiliar challenges, ranging from fulfilling the order and implementing the correct documentation, right through to getting paid.
Other companies begin their journey more proactively: they look for opportunities, carry out research and aggressively promote themselves in target markets. But again, there are major challenges. A company that has so far solely done business in a domestic marketplace will be striking out into unfamiliar territory that may be very different in terms of culture, business practices and regulation. To avoid mistakes and maximise the opportunities, most companies will benefit from expert advice and help from people who can steer them towards fulfiling their ambitions.
Providing access to that advice – or to put it another way, providing the connectivity – is an important part of the work carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce. As things stand, around 30% of our members are exporters so research into overseas markets is vital. We also work closely with UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) – the government sponsored body charged with promoting both exports and inward investment – and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. This collaboration means members have access to contacts and advice in export markets around the globe.
Why seek advice?
In our experience, businesses often require help across a number of areas. At a fundamental level it’s important to consider whether the business in question is ready to export: a question that focuses on the nature of the product and the opportunities to sell overseas. Then there are a number of practical issues to address, including the best way to ship and distribute the product, getting the documentation right, and navigating a course through the rules and regulations of an unfamiliar jurisdiction.
Finance is another key challenge and companies often require guidance on the banking solutions that can be used to fund their export activities, and the practicalities of getting paid on time by overseas customers. It’s also important to consider foreign exchange risks.
Exporting is a journey that begins with decisions about where you want to export to – for instance, the mature markets of the EU or US, or the fast-growth, emerging markets of Brazil and China. Initially, the research can be carried out within the UK, but once a target market has been identified it is vital to talk to people on the ground in order to set your foundations and start growing your overseas business.
Which brings us back to connectivity. The BCC offers access to advisors within the UK, but thanks to our global network we can rapidly arrange for people to talk to advisors and contacts in their target market. By talking to experts on the ground a business can maximise the opportunities and avoid costly mistakes.
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