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.