British businesses need to get out more – and export!

Trading overseas helped to turn Lara Morgan’s Pacific Direct into a business worth £20m. Read her export lessons here

How do you make export simple and fun? Take a holiday.

The key to me achieving export success with an apparent lack of export planning has been a simple system that has worked brilliantly, time and time again.

Business export trips and holidays mix perfectly

Just by adding a trip of a few days onto a holiday in a place you wish to discover will teach you more and cost you less than any other export market research.

I used to have to visit China and Hong Kong on sourcing trips, for quality control factory visits and to meet suppliers. I admit I was lucky that being in the hotel sector made it easy to research that market, but the fact is that most good business products are also relevant and potentially in demand abroad too.

The real professionalism comes as you can afford to become more targeted in your export growth, but some products are simply sellable everywhere, as was the case with my mini soaps.

Export markets promise bigger orders, better margins

A growing market abroad will nearly always bear a bigger, faster return on your investment than that of your local trials at home, with greater potential volume demand and less competition.

By thinking local, not global, you may be missing some massive up-sides – better margins, bigger shipments, faster demand – it would be madness to miss, so please, get greedy and get going abroad.

Being British is a huge advantage

In the UK we have the HUGE advantage that the English language is the business language of the world, and the reputation of British law and fairness will serve you well – in fact, above and beyond any expectations I had.

I have made friends for life in multiple countries and both bought companies, set up a joint venture and established my own factories in far flung places. I am not a massive linguist, I was lucky to grow up abroad, but there is no difference between me and you except I got around.

Self-protection can be simple if you follow rules

Truthfully, my first export growth was madness, following client demand into supplying Russia. A buyer from a London Hotel had moved to Moscow and wanted premium slippers for his market – I was just lucky that he could not buy them locally – but I quickly learned a couple of lessons.

  1. Firstly, by all means quote internationally but ideally quote FOB UK (Freight on Board). This way, the buyer worries about all the freight complexity, as mine did. Put simply, once the items have left the seller’s dock it’s the buyer’s property.
  2. Secondly, don’t be afraid to walk away if you do not get your cash payment up front, as you may never see it if you provide services abroad without getting your cash secured. I walked away from the order requirement twice, and both times the buyer came back and agreed to my terms. There is something to be said for sticking to your terms, knowing and believing in your product quality and reading your market.

An order of any type is not an order if the payment is not secured. International laws may have no relevance abroad so get your bank to teach you how you can assure you can get payment, and never give credit until you are well established in the market and only when dealing with creditable checked out clients.

Cheap travel and stop-overs offer new market opportunities

Back to my limited export strategy – I was flying regularly to Hong Kong, but passing over the massive market of the Middle East made no sense. I was taking the cheapest flight possible, which meant we always landed in Dubai anyway, and a break in the flight cost me nothing except a hotel bill.

It was such a fast growing hotel market in 1993 it would have been inexcusable not to have tried to sell, only 18 months after I started Pacific Direct. My treat for the demanding schedule was literally a few hours in the sunshine, perfect motivational reward for me.

The British Embassy can open doors

Before I travelled anywhere we would always take a few days to do our homework and announce my imminent visit to a territory.

We also used the Embassy locally to support our visit, and with utter terror I once held a cocktail party at the British Embassy tagged on to the first Hotel Show in the region to maximise exposure and minimise expense.

It gave us a great, premium start into the market, with seriously posh invitations in very thick card to make a proper impression.

Feet on the ground and follow-ups work wonders

Follow-up is also an imperative. You have to plan that time, taking into account the local market, cultures and work times, in order to maximise your time in the market.

Early in my career I came up with a plan for this – on arrival in any city I used to hire a taxi or a hire car (which was easier when carting samples), I would then get up very early to beat all the traffic and drop prepared envelopes in all the hotels I wished to visit.

By customising the envelopes, with correct details and spellings, even those people who had not responded to my pre-visit request had something eye-catching waiting for them when they arrived for work. This guise worked time and time again, from Taiwan to Tobago.

Go on, get out there – you have masses to gain and nothing to lose.

Lara Morgan is founder of Company Shortcuts – a consultancy dedicated to excellence in sales and leadership. KUTA (Kick up the Ass) is its text-based service designed to help you, and your business, improve.

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