Exporting - a reality for SMEs?
July 21 2009, Birmingham Post, column by Mike Musson
Earlier this year the West Midlands ICT Cluster, supported by Advantage West Midlands, conducted a survey into the level of export activity amongst ICT companies in the region, previously identified as exporters. A healthy 84% of these respondents have been exporting ICT products and services across the globe – from Europe to Asia and Africa during the past two years. Amongst those companies not currently exporting, 64% stated that they plan to do so within the next 12-18 months.
The results are encouraging. When sales are down, companies need to be innovative about finding new markets. ICT is a global opportunity so if a product is successful in the UK, the chances are there are potentially lucrative new markets overseas. Entering any new market requires careful research and planning andthere is a wealth of support on offer to facilitate successful entry into overseas markets; many of these support schemes are listed on the ICT Cluster website.
Another interesting finding of the ICT Cluster research was the identification of the EU (40%) and USA/Canada (30%) as the most important export markets for existing ICT exporters. Most of the currently exporting companies were selling through agents, partners or joint ventures. Indeed, as many European countries are faring better than the UK they offer potentially large markets for Midlands companies.
But as an SME how do you embark on an export strategy? The best starting point is to research and develop a smart business plan. It’s important to really understand your product; how it adds value; where potential customers are; and identify key decision makers. On top of this it’s essential to know the country you’re targeting including cultural, language and regulatory issues.
Support for international trade comes in many guises and is available whether you are already exporting or just exploring options. The two primary organisations for a first point of contact are UKTI and the British Chambers of Commerce, who offer and can access a range of export advisory services as well as providing grants for SMEs to attend overseas trade missions. The University of Warwick Science Park has just launched a short term mentor driven initiative for innovative high-tech businesses keen to develop new international markets. The European Commission (EC) also provides a number of international schemes aimed at encouraging cross-border trade and investment between EU member countries. One example is the Enterprise Europe Network, providing a range of free services to SMEs including business partnership facilitation and information and advice on EU legislation, regulation and policy.
As globalisation occurs and the world becomes metaphorically smaller, targeting foreign markets has become a reality for any size of business. Exporting can be a big step into the unknown but once you take it, you won’t be alone.
Mike Musson, ICT Cluster Manager, Advantage West Midlands