Helping small businesses find success with international trade: A report from our latest online event

Posted: Mon 27th Nov 2023

Earlier this month, Enterprise Nation, in partnership with Mastercard’s Strive Learning Network, hosted a session focusing on how government and the private sector can work together to increase the number of UK small businesses that are exporting their goods.

The online session brought together government representatives, small business owners and support organisations to discuss the opportunities and challenges around global trade.

Here, Enterprise Nation's head of policy Daniel Woolf looks back at some of the key points of discussion and what can be done to help the UK's smaller business sell overseas.

Networks and resources: Claire Sarson, Department for Business and Trade

Kicking off the event, Claire Sarson, head of international SME policy at the Department for Business and Trade, affirmed the government's commitment to boosting small business exports as a key driver of economic growth.

Claire pointed to resources like great.gov.uk and the UK Export Academy, which provide market information and free training to help small businesses export their goods. Offered in partnership with private-sector players like Google and Amazon, these programmes help highlight the government's collaborative approach.

Claire also discussed the network of trade advisers, export champion mentors and SME chapters in trade deals that aim to open up the market to small exporters.

By integrating exporters' feedback into trade negotiations, the government seeks to unlock opportunities through provisions that promote information sharing and simpler admin. Having set some ambitious export targets, the government aims to turn signed deals into tangible results.

The small business view

Hannah Saunders, head of operations at Kiddiwhizz

Small business owners then shared their own experiences of exporting and tips for other businesses looking to enter international markets.

Hannah Saunders, head of operations at Kiddiwhizz, emphasised the importance of attending trade fairs to make strategic connections and build confidence among prospective overseas partners.

Hannah suggested that navigating countries' regulations takes time, but government matched funding and support can help the smaller players. Hannah also highlighted Amazon US as an easy initial route into the American market.

Ali Shariat, director at This Way Up/Coconut Merchant

Meanwhile, Ali encouraged businesses to start online to test demand before committing major investment to new markets. He stressed the importance of learning business cultures, using distributors as an intermediaries.

Ali went on to reiterate Hannah's point about the complexity of regulations, with the post-Brexit EU being a particular pain point. All in all, it was serving to make the US an increasingly attractive market given its single regulatory regime.

Boosting skills and making things simpler

The audience then heard from the following panel of speakers:

Vicky Goddard, academy technical director at the Institute of Export

Vicky emphasised upskilling training, knowledge sharing and early business education. She added that with many small businesses previously only trading inside the EU, developing talent pipelines and understanding long-term trends in international trade remains crucial. And collaborating with government on issues like skills funding will help support growth.

Paul Wrighting, trade training manager at the British Chambers of Commerce

Paul called for a formalised government trade policy to get the biggest possible benefit from recently signed trade deals. He estimated that customs declarations typically cost around £40 to £50 per shipment and advised businesses to assess logistics partners based on the types of shipments they transport and the volumes they carry.

Nicholas Dear, COO at Deloitte Customs Clear

Nicholas explained that Deloitte's CustomsClear software platform simplifies the customs process into a guided online journey. Deloitte's global presence also means it can provide experienced and trusted advice on international trade matters. Nicholas pointed to government contracting as an avenue for small businesses to access big new opportunities.

Online marketplaces and e-commerce platforms

The session moved on to explore the potential of online marketplaces and ecommerce platforms in helping small businesses to export internationally.

James Salter, head of UK global selling at Amazon

James talked about Amazon's 'Fulfilled by Amazon' service, which handles logistics and customer service overseas once a business's products have reached foreign fulfilment centres.

He advised that, once momentum builds, businesses should begin to jumpstart sales and reviews to gain visibility and make sure they have products fully stocked. Various programmes facilitate shipment to Amazon fulfilment centres worldwide based on the exporter's geography.

Deepak Anand, general manager at Shopline

Deepak highlighted the major opportunities in Asian markets available to UK businesses through Shopline's e-commerce platform. He also noted that Livestream and social commerce are huge trends in Asia that Shopline is built to take advantage of. Its vision is to disrupt Shopify by focusing on emerging experiences like social and discovery commerce.

Key takeaways

In summary, here are the five key takeaways from the session:

  1. Government support is available – leverage programs and advisers to navigate regulatory hurdles and access overseas markets.

  2. Join training programmes to build key knowledge – from logistics to cultural nuances, you can't wing it.

  3. Attend trade fairs – to make strategic partnerships and open new doors internationally.

  4. Start small using online marketplaces – a great way to test demand before major investment.

  5. Solve problems like logistics by tapping experts through trade associations and service providers.

Despite the challenges, there are plenty of local and international resources to help small businesses realise the significant opportunities from expanding overseas. With the government aiming to boost exports, and more small firms selling through e-commerce than ever before, the potential for growth is there.

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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