Seizing the global export opportunity

Shifting to an export model is an investment and UK companies that want to take advantage of the rise in global business should prepare well and thoroughly research prospective markets. To help get your export adventure off to a flying start, we have collated some essential tips.

Opportunities for export are opening up around the world and it is getting easier for UK companies to sell their products and services. Although there are still hurdles to overcome, help is at hand for ambitious businesses that are prepared to make the leap into global trade. Companies that do trade internationally are likely to have better growth prospects than those that only trade domestically*exporting is therefore an excellent strategy in challenging economic times and companies that begin to export become much more optimistic about their future.

The benefits are obvious – new sales channels, brand reach and greater perceived value – but barriers including language, culture, legal hurdles, logistics, currencies and tax put many businesses off the idea of exporting. Thankfully, all such hurdles are surmountable and experts are on hand to help. Government agencies, non-government organisations (NGOs) and companies like Santander provide a network of support for businesses that are branching into foreign markets for the first time, or looking to increase their presence on the global stage. 

What does international trade offer? 

Official data from HM Revenue & Customs shows that the UK exported £12.5 billion to EU countries alone in September 2014, an increase of £1.9 billion on the previous month. Exports to Germany and the Netherlands – the UK’s two biggest trading partners – were up more than 15%, and trade to France – the third biggest – increased by 11%.

Successive surveys of confidence reflect this positive trend. The most recent Quarterly International Trade Outlook by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) shows sentiment among exporters at its most positive since well before the global financial crisis. However, this only partially translates into more UK businesses entering into international sectors with less than half of the businesses surveyed having ambitions to grow internationally.

Barriers remain but so do solutions 

In a separate report, the BCC points to Britain’s skills gap as a primary factor that is holding back exports. SMEs, in particular, were identified as lacking language skills and knowledge of the commercial aspects of exporting. Some cited locating international customers, agents and distributors as being a major hurdle, while others admitted problems sourcing market information.

Despite these issues, many UK sectors are booming. For example, according to Office for National Statistics data, UK breweries sent more than 1.1 billion pints of beer to 113 countries last year alone, generating around £630 million for the UK economy. The rise has been driven in part by microbreweries who are exporting their products for the first time.

Global opportunities

There are countless opportunities for trade in Europe but emerging markets outside the EU offer even greater potential. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries are the superpowers of tomorrow, while emerging MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) economies are hungry for trade. The latter group are smaller but factors such as swelling populations, burgeoning economies and untapped markets make them an enticing prospect for the right businesses.

And then, of course, there’s the US – still the biggest economy in the world – an export market that offers not just economic clout but also a shared language, legal values and business culture.

The World Trade Organisation forecasts that growth in global trade volumes will accelerate from 4.7% this year to 5.3% in 2015: this will be fuelled by greater volumes of existing trade, as well as new points of contact being established.

A wealth of support 

Shifting to an export model is an investment and UK companies that are planning to take advantage of the rise in global business should prepare well and thoroughly research prospective markets. The research phase should include utilising sources of free advice and support. Government organisations such as UKTI and HMRC have experts on hand to advise potential exporters, while business groups such as the CBI, BCC and FSB offer support to members, as well as free resources on their websites.

Support is available across the board to help businesses overcome potential export roadblocks, including skills shortfalls, access to market information and knowledge of the processes involved in getting products to export markets. One such example of support is Santander’s SME Summit series, hosted in cities throughout the UK and providing practical support, inspiring business case studies and opportunities to network with a range of successful businesses.

To help get your export adventure off to a flying start, we have collated some essential tips on how companies can access export markets and increase their likelihood of hitting the big time overseas.

Exporting tips

  • Do your research

Diminish any exporting fears by conducting your own research to find out whether there is demand. This involves answering five key questions: ‘Where is the demand? Who are the clients and suppliers? How do you connect with them? How will you ensure you get paid? How will you grow your presence within the territory?’ Santander has recently launched a Trade Portal that could help you answer these questions.

John Carroll, Head of International Santander Corporate & Commercial

Note: Full access to the trade portal is available to Santander Corporate & Commercial Online Banking customers, if you are not our online banking customer then some parts of the site will be restricted. 

  • Plan

Make sure you have a business plan and the necessary capital. Approach your bank and UK Export Finance (UKEF), the government’s export finance provider for advice well in advance so they can provide the best possible support.

Dominic Jermey, CEO, UKTI

  • Know your customers

Make sure you know the customs and the commercial deadlines your customers work to, and remember that Saturday and Sunday are not weekends everywhere.

FSB www.smallbusinessadviceweek.co.uk

  • Know your competitors

Don’t jump into export markets two-footed without learning what there is to know first. It’s important you uncover information about who you are competing with, who you will sell to, and the major barriers you will have to overcome. Once you know these and have worked out ways around them, the path to export success will be a lot smoother.

Daniel Gestetner, CEO, Yoomoo Ltd

  • Test your Market

Take part in overseas events, trade fairs or missions to test markets, appoint agents or distributors and make sales. The UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) Trade Access Programme provides grants to companies to attend trade shows and missions worldwide.

Dominic Jermey, CEO, UKTI

  • Become culturally aware

Think of exporting to any non-English-speaking market and the obvious obstacles spring to mind – not only language barriers but also social and cultural mores. There is a great deal that can be learned ahead of an exploratory visit about the accepted ways of working and the key cultural differences between the UK and overseas markets.

Getting to know your target market as people rather than just a business may seem tricky, but there are plenty of organisations that can help would-be exporters break the ice.The World Business Centre website offers a fascinating database of cultural differences, from gender expectations to management styles.

Marcelino Castrillo, Managing Director of SME Banking Santander Corporate & Commercial

Failure to take account of different cultures might lead to damaging and costly mistakes. This could range from causing offence by not observing correct protocol to inappropriate packaging and marketing.

Dominic Jermey, CEO, UKTI

  • Make sure you get paid

Exporters need to ensure they have sufficient processes in place to secure prompt payment. This is often overlooked as people sometimes start trading with overseas customers without first gaining a thorough understanding of the mechanics of how they will be paid and how local legislation will work in practice. Banks have many ways of protecting companies from delayed or non-payment, and from their currency exposure.

John Carroll, Head of International Santander Corporate & Commercial

As obvious as it may sound; it is very easy to overlook the risk of non-payment. You can establish the credit rating of potential clients in many countries and guard against non-payment through, for instance, a letter of credit or credit insurance. UKEF can provide advice and insurance where the private market can’t help.

Dominic Jermey, CEO, UKTI

  • Foreign exchange knowledge

Get to know the currency you will be dealing with. Consult with your provider early: they have a wealth of experience, knowledge and information on these risks and the markets that surround them

Dominic Jermey, CEO, UKTI


Setting up overseas may not move as quickly as you anticipated, local customs and legislation can slow things down, but there are a number of organisations and resources that are available to help. 

In addition, Santander has a number of programmes, services and resources that could help UK business owners find the best overseas opportunities, source potential customers or suppliers and come face-to-face with potential business partners overseas.


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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK