Olive Strachan North West Export Champion 2016
Inspiring Business North West
phone +44 (0) 161 209 3950

Going Global

On 10th October 2017 in my role as a North-West Export Champion, I was invited to a joint event between the Institute of Directors and The Department of International Trade called 'An Introduction to Exporting'. It was a thought-provoking event hosted by KPMG Manchester.

It was a round table event with a variety of organisations, some already exporting successfully and some new to exporting looking for guidance. As a seasoned exporter having worked as a Learning and Development Consultant/Executive coach in 25 countries around the world, I was there to share my experience of working globally and to share some of the successes and challenges of working with diverse cultures.

The key points for discussion were:

Why should companies export?

There are myriad reasons including growing your market and increasing sales, it also allows you to reduce your reliance on the UK market. If your product or service is experiencing a downturn, being able to offer it globally means that you offset this by exporting, plus it could increase the shelf life of your product or service. I can confirm that this has been my experience of exporting. During the recession in the UK from 2008 onwards I identified clients who had an international reach and was able to win a contract which allowed me to work globally, thus keeping my business solvent during the difficult and challenging years. As someone who was born in Dominica in the Caribbean, the opportunity to see the world whilst working in a profession that I love has provided me with some amazing opportunities to build a global network of contacts.

Academic research confirms that exporting companies see the following benefits:

  • They are 11% more likely to stay in business
  • More productive and innovative than non-exporters
  • 30% increase in productivity in the first year
  • Higher profile and more credibility

I can confirm that if I had not won my international contract during the recession I would not be in business today. Being able to work abroad whilst the UK was in the doldrums allowed my company to withstand the recession and keep going. It has also given me a firm foundation in the global market with organisations offering me work in the countries where I have some experiences. For example, I have worked in Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait and Yemen on numerous occasions. I have also worked in Bangkok, Sarajevo and Uzbekistan. So, potential clients understand that I am versatile and have cultural awareness.

Barriers to exporting

The organisations that attended the event had quite specific barriers which they shared with us. We were also given some barriers reported to the Department for International Trade; which were finding customers, payment terms, logistics, communication and legal risks. One of the big issues is also around culture. I was very fortunate that a lot of my work was for the British Council. Part of their support for consultants who work for them involves sending you guidance prior to travelling which gives information regarding the culture and the do's and don'ts whilst working in a location. This information was invaluable in helping with dress code and language etc. If the organisation that you are working for does not supply this I would recommend the excellent services of the DTI who have 1,200 staff in over 100 overseas markets and around 400 people across UK regions, working locally with UK businesses. They can provide advice about culture, language and can also arrange meetings with potential customers on your behalf.

My lessons learned from 14 years of working globally:

Explore and immerse yourself in the culture.

I have always learnt how to say good morning, hello or welcome in the language where I am delivering training or working. This sometimes can cause amusement due to the accent, but I find everyone appreciates that you have tried. But also, it is important to dress appropriately and respect the dress code.

Learn laws and social etiquette

This is vital in order to do business that is sustainable, in some countries you have to build a relationship where there is trust, which means some face to face contact and delivering on your promises. This also includes your website, it is important that your website respects the social mores and culture of your clients. For instance, having someone with parts of their body exposed in your marketing material when selling bathroom equipment is not suitable for the Middle East.

Build your global brand by:

  • Using your unique selling point (USP) - what is different about you? What can you offer that others can't?

  • Presenting yourself and your product or service in a way that is tailored to your market.

  • Dress and speak appropriately - use humour appropriately. If unsure, leave it out rather than risking offence.

  • Know and use your social media channels. 88% of the Middle East's online population use social media daily. It is estimated that 58 million people in the Middle East use Facebook, with 6.5 million people on Twitter and 5.8 million on LinkedIn.

So, if you have not considered taking your business to a global audience, now is the time! If I can be of any help to you starting on your global journey, feel free to contact me - if I can't help you myself, I will put you in touch with Bobbie Charleston-Price, my international trade adviser.

Olive Strachan with Packaging Automation

I recently received an exciting and unexpected email:

Hi Olive,

We are going to an awards dinner on 13th July because we are finalists in three categories, the whole management team are going and we would love you to join us, as you have been closely involved in our journey and our success.

This email was from Sam Ashton, Operations Director of Packaging Automation Ltd in Knutsford, who I have been working with on various projects since 2014. As a Learning and Development/HR Consultant I work for myself and we often work with organisations in various capacities. You know you have had a positive impact, but you don’t often have a chance to share in the success. It was lovely to be invited to the awards ceremony, sharing the recognition received by my clients.

The 2017 E3 Business Awards evening took place on Thursday 13th July at the Macron Stadium in Bolton. The winners were announced in front of an audience of over 500 business delegates. There were seventeen award categories. The winning companies and individuals came from organisations across the North West: from Cumbria to Cheshire, Merseyside to Manchester. It was an amazing evening with each business having the opportunity to speak on a video about why they deserve to be recognised.

We were not successful for two of the three categories, so as they announced the ‘Manufacturing Business of the Year 2017’ we sat there tense, with our hearts beating fast. Sam Ashton appeared on the screen sharing the company's many achievements with the rapt audience. This was a challenging category because the winner had to demonstrate:

  • Excellent sales performance and growth prospects
  • A strong pioneering spirit in new product development
  • Manufacturing innovation and the use of technology
  • Quality and continuous improvement
  • Investment in people
  • Evidence of staff training / mentoring

As soon as they announced Packaging Automation as the winner, our table erupted. I was invited to join the senior leadership team on the stage and we danced towards it cheering and clapping to the music. It was such a fantastic feeling. Everyone joined together their faces reflecting pride and elation. This was the culmination of all their hard work.

Packaging Automation at the 2017 E3 Business Awards

When we returned to our table with the award, both Neil and Sam Ashton spoke with pride about their staff, acknowledging that each member had impacted on the organisation’s success.

Neil paid tribute to his staff saying the following:

"I know the effort that’s gone into the last four years by everybody and these awards are not easy to win. Recognition from other industry and business leaders add to all the other positive feedback we receive and it’s great to know we’ve achieved another accolade.

"We have so much more to achieve and many more challenges ahead and with the belief we have anything is possible. We will continue our journey which can only mean more success.

"Well done everyone!"

So, what has been the impact of celebrating success?

  • Celebrating milestones does have a positive impact on employee well-being and engagement. Staff feel that they are contributing to the long-term success of the organisation.

  • It contributes to the stories and myths that will be told in the future about the organisation, e.g. 'Remember when we won that award?'

  • It motivates staff to focus on the next goal, the next award.

  • It helps build collaborative relationships - other organisations are now contacting them to ask for their advice and support.

  • It makes them an employer of choice. Success is contagious!

I feel an immense pride in working with this amazing organisation, who are leading the way in the manufacturing field.

Thank you again for allowing me to share in your successful journey.

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