Posted: Thu 20th Feb 2014
The current government drive to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to export is all well and good, but what about micro-businesses? What can we do to 'go global' from our home offices? Here's what I've learned about international expansion from humble headquarters.
First, clearly understand your position in your home (UK) market to see where your best market niche is. It's best to start with data - and if you're a startup, understand the basis behind your projections. It's possible your approach could be export-ready at inception (after some testing). Otherwise, put in a solid foundation at home first.
Next, consider the EU zone and get systems and plans in place, then consolidate to go for non-EU markets. Emerging economies are most difficult and will need more resource.
It's good to rely on community networks, like Open to Export. And offline too - London has the advantage of being culturally diverse with the advantage of time zone (hence all the banks!) and different nationalities (and languages) at your doorstep. You can conduct face-to-face meetings and understand the cultural nuances of communication.
My one caveat regarding 'going global' is to ask yourself how you will get paid, since even the best value proposition will sink when payment is not effected. This also ties in with how to arrange funding, so you need to get the balance right. Help is also available from UKTI.
Your website is the toolbox for e-commerce, but you need to pick the tools for your purpose in a strategic manner. Check the plumbing with Google Analytics. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is an essential part of your promotional toolkit, while the choice of your social media channels should match your target export market or country. Videos, and the power of YouTube, are very useful too.
It's important that you have a good financial framework, in order to keep profits and maintain growth. Also, you should work within the government regulations, especially in the areas of tax, so ensure you get good advice.
Once your products or service leaves your home, the easiest route is to the Post Office, so you can pop in or use their web portal for export documentation. This activity does comes under e-commerce also, which is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing retail channels.
It's been so useful - for me - to attend Enterprise Nation meet-ups, workshops and events, including the Go Global week held in November 2011. The invaluable Go Global handbook is available here.