Challenge: Finding new markets

Is now the best time to be thinking about entering new markets? Yes, but don’t bite off more than you can chew

Evaluating and entering an international market is a major decision for any SME. Therefore, it’s vital that it’s approached in the right way. Do your homework ahead of time to understand where the greatest opportunity might be for your business, why that is the case and what exactly what it will take to deliver. Ensure that someone from within your business is made responsible, and devotes sufficient time to make it happen. Don’t try and do too much at one time – we frequently see failure where companies try to do too much at once (e.g. multiple markets at one time). Take things one step at a time.

Don’t fall for the ‘Someone I met on a plane told me’
You’ll have no shortage of advice and people wanting to share their views on your international plans, and while it’s important to consult widely, and take considered views, ultimately, it’s your business and your decision. Avoid the temptation to follow advice literally from people, rather do your homework and analysis first, and consult after as opposed to the other way around. These factors around your business decision will invariably be difficult to those faced by others, so be guided by the facts first.

Lost in translation
The world is increasingly a smaller place, which is great for doing business internationally, and means fewer barriers to entry than before. However, doing business in other countries is still different to operating domestically. Be aware of business ‘norms’ and cultural differences as you seek to build your business abroad. Respecting hierarchy, presentation styles approach to negotiations etc. will all be different versus home. Getting your approach right in this area is a major factor in gaining acceptance and ultimately winning business.

Avoid legal/regulatory traps
Ensuring you navigate and comply with the necessary regulations and business requirements is crucial. This will become increasingly important given the inevitable changes that UK’s exit from the EU, and pursuit of additional trade agreements will bring. The correct legal advice to ensure that you have the right balance between protection and flexibility to grow is also key.

Commitment to stay the course
Breaking an international market is tough, it will invariably involve disappointments along the way – deals that get away, partners that go astray. But, those who do their homework, build a plan, and stick to it are those that succeed. It may involve more flights and hotel nights away than you originally thought, but it will be worth it in the end.

Colin McCullagh is Director, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of OCO Exporting