27 November 2017

Is it time to push the boundaries?

If you are considering going international, Gareth Magee provides top ten tips for forging more formal and valuable relationships in your target market.

Online marketplaces have transformed how retailers find, and then transact with, buyers from all around the globe. With an abundance of these websites providing businesses with unprecedented access to new markets, it’s no surprise that SMEs are taking advantage of them and using the internet to further their global ambitions. They offer a low risk, easy access means of reaching an extensive new base of potential customers.

Not only do these marketplaces provide a window for your product or service, but they can provide processing, delivery, fulfilment, auctioning, ordering and currency exchange solutions.

Many SMEs, however, will have ambitions that lie far beyond direct online sales. How do you scale up from these online marketplaces and take your international push to the next level? How do SMEs take the next step and forge more formal, specific and valuable relationships with customers and suppliers in their target markets outside the UK? It’s not always easy, but here are some practical steps that can be taken to start you off on the right foot.

Here are my top ten tips:

  1. Get really good local advice – talk to someone that has a strong international network with offices all around the globe, and find a good, local adviser who can help you make sense of the local laws, legislations, taxes, and ways of doing business.
  2. Research the political, economic and cultural differences – don’t let differences become barriers.
  3. Do your homework on the company in question. Run some proper credit checks and undertake some due diligence – know who you are talking to. Ask for references too.
  4. It sounds simple, but do a Google search. News searches in particular can provide you with a lot of information that you want to know, and perhaps some the other party might not want to you to know.
  5. Call them. It may sound old school, but a call will give you a really strong sense of how they do business.
  6. Don’t limit your engagement to a particular individual. Engage with more than one person on both sides of the relationship and start to build a network of connections from the very outset – this will stand you in good stead.
  7. Understand local bribery and corruption rules – don’t fall foul or offend.
  8. Get advice in terms of what your foreign exchange exposure might be and how you can mitigate against this.
  9. Think about whether you might need export finance or protection against overseas bad debts. People like Bibby Financial Services have products that can help.
  10. Ultimately, be prepared to travel – and not just once. There’s absolutely no substitute for face to face interaction.

Going international is hard work, and an owner manager will have to put in a lot of hours to achieve success. Being prepared at home is critical too. It may be the ideal time to reconsider the spread of responsibility within the core business and re-purpose some members of staff to take on some of the crucial tasks. 

Scottish businesses have clearly demonstrated their capabilities, and we have a long history of heading overseas to make our fortunes. We are visionaries, innovators and hard workers – so why should we be contained by borders?

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