The Institute of Export’s director general, Lesley Batchelor, took part in a roundtable event hosted by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), which debated the opportunities and barriers faced by UK businesses as they grow their share of global exports.
Three concurrent events, with video-link, took place in Cardiff, Glasgow and London, and featured successful exporters, experts and advisors debating the current climate for export, sharing how they have been successful and explaining how they cope with export market challenges.
With domestic growth remaining sluggish at best, government interest in fuelling economic growth by maximising overseas trade has put exporting firmly on the agenda for UK businesses. A sense that the UK is riding high after a summer of celebration, including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics, strengthens the case for seizing the day and promoting export to our SME sector.
Lesley said about the debate: “What came through loud and clear in the discussions was a sense that the UK undoubtedly has a strong national brand, greatly enhanced by this summer’s Olympic events.
“That said, while a good international standing undoubtedly helps to open doors, it is in no way a substitute for preparation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that UK businesses don’t always conduct themselves well abroad and risk damaging the valuable national brand. Examples include failing to present themselves and their businesses effectively or to prepare well for face-to-face encounters, using colloquial English or failing to find out whether interpreters would be required at meetings.”
Help with preparation
Lesley added: “Surprisingly for a trading nation, export isn’t at the forefront of our business plans with many businesses becoming exporters for the first time when they unexpectedly land an order from outside their domestic market. These businesses must follow through with well-founded propositions and strong research into the cultural and business norms of their target markets.
“However, we know that smaller businesses in particular are time-poor, with scant resource to research foreign markets or formulate export strategies. Likewise the risks and pitfalls are real enough: protection for intellectual property, pricing goods and services realistically for target markets, addressing language barriers, insuring against bad debts, tackling regulation and customs requirements… the list goes on.
“Any new approach to advising and assisting these businesses needs to strike a balance between communicating the need for preparation and a realistic approach to support their early efforts. The roundtable served to emphasise what we already know and act on here at the IOE: that businesses of all sizes need accessible, practical help if we are to embed export into the psyche of British business.”