International markets offer huge opportunities for UK businesses. Selling internationally is very complex but – as with most things – easy with help and appropriate training. This week LUX Assure’s Key Account Manager, Jenni Howe, will be attending the Institute to Export and International Trade’s Roadmap to Success – It’s easy when you know how event in Edinburgh. In this article, Jenni shares her experience and the challenges faced by an SME when exporting to remote locations:
From experience I know exporting can be challenging; after the initial excitement of securing an international order wears off the reality of how to fulfil the order can be daunting. How do you overcome this and navigate your way through the minefield of exporting your goods internationally?
Faced with exporting to a customer based in a country, which requires a 36-hour journey by plane, train and automobile can be stressful, especially when the customer requires your order by next Wednesday or not at all.
So, what do you do? Ideally, you would have already completed 6 months’ worth of research and planned a controlled entrance into the market. However, if you are a small company with limited resources this is unfortunately unlikely to happen. Burying your head in the sand is not an option, so what is the most practical way forward?
Find your friends
First stop, the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce can advise on the documentation requirements for exporting goods to other countries. From experience, they usually hold a good amount of anecdotal knowledge and are happy to share the experiences of other companies who have faced similar challenges. Occasionally, they are also able to put you in touch with people who can offer further help and advice.
Next stop, the shipping company. LUX has a preferred freight forwarding company, so I can pick up the phone and speak to the person I have an existing relationship with to organise the delivery. If there are any problems with the shipment, a lot of the time the freight company can resolve the problem and deal with it on our behalf. They also have the advantage of being a much bigger customer for the couriers compared to any SME, so tend to get the answers much quicker.
Arranging visas can also be a minefield so I tend to work with specialists. Their ability to check over documents before submission and assure you are applying for the right visa type gives you confidence and when working to tight deadlines this is extremely helpful.
I have also recently been pleasantly surprised by the assistance offered from other small businesses and individuals, who have offered advice, help and contacts with nothing to gain. I am happy to share LUX’s experiences to help other SME’s succeed and think there is a lot that can be gained from sharing our insights.
Talk to your customer
It is likely that your customer will have developed coping strategies and have procedures in place to ease the import / export process. Without an agent or any other friends in country, your customer can be the next best thing.
If there is risk involved, it is worth managing the customer’s expectations. No matter how much you assist, or how simple you make it, importing (especially in a hurry) will always be an active process.
The internet is the world’s largest source of information and it’s a great tool when used correctly.
Apart from access to the wealth of information from government and official websites, there are also hundreds of people who have been in similar situations, who may have already recounted their story for all to read. As always common sense should be applied in some cases, but these places can really help to translate the somewhat black and white official rules into a usable, understandable form.
Give it a go
Do your research, confirm you aren’t doing anything illegal, and then give it a go.
It’s not how people would always like to proceed, but for me, it’s very often about learning as you go. Prepare as much as you can and remember that once you wave goodbye to the boxes, your work is far from done. Watch the shipment like a hawk, put your ego aside, and be prepared to hassle people; your shipping company, their agent, and anyone else with an active part in the delivery process.
You also need to manage your colleagues’ expectations. Don’t turn into a ‘yes man’, make sure your company is up-to-date with the challenges of logistics and the probability of success, so everyone is aware of the challenges at play.
It is vital that your customer is kept up to date throughout the process – send them a copy of all the documents, let them track the delivery and give them the assistance they need to aide receiving the goods on time.
Finally, whilst it can seem like there are an endless number of hoops to jump through, it’s a great feeling watching it all come together. With the recent ‘Exporting is Great’ push, there are people queuing up to offer you information about exporting and I would whole heartedly recommend getting involved with the events to share best practice and learn from industry experts. To this day, I am often intimidated by the size of the challenges put in front of me but talk to the right people, work hard at it and you might just be surprised with what your small company can achieve!