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How to grow your business with international trade

Importing and exporting offers businesses of all sizes the opportunity to grow and discover new markets. Read on to find out the benefits to your business, plus where to get help getting started.

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A reported eight out of ten small businesses in the UK shy away from trading overseas due to concerns over size, competitiveness and language barriers. But importing and exporting offers businesses of all sizes opportunities to grow and discover new markets. Read on to find out the benefits to your business, plus where to get help getting started. Business benefits of international trade Importing can allow a business to expand their range of products or services, improve or repair your supply chain or increase customer satisfaction. Exporting can dramatically increase turnover and profitability, particularly if there is no equivalent in the target market and around 15% of our members are already looking at starting or expanding their exporting activities as a result of weak domestic confidence. Yet international trade is not always easy, as it requires understanding of overseas regulations, logistics, ownership and variations in currency rates which impact on the amount paid. Where to get help There are support organisations that support UK firms in trading internationally. You can contact them when researching a foreign market and when you're ready to enter it: UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) UKTI has 40 offices throughout the UK providing a wide range of services, delivered locally to exporters through a network of international trade. Mentoring for inexperienced exporters Helpline during office hours Support in visiting markets and key trade fairs Information services about the market potential and barriers Identification of key customers A communications review to minimise cultural or linguistic issues Strategic review for more experienced exporters For more information, visit www.ukti.gov.uk/export and find your nearest regional office. Institute of Export The Institute of Export is the professional membership body representing and supporting the interests of everyone involved in importing, exporting and international trade. It provides courses on the basics of importing and exporting as well as more specialist courses. Their training is provided through distance learning, day courses and links with colleges. For more information, visit www.export.org.uk. Which markets to target When it comes to suggesting markets that SMEs should target, many commentators have been pushing emerging economies such as the ‘BRICs' (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Taken together, they represent more than one-third of the world's total population, and nearly one-fifth of total economic output, and yet only around 5% of British exports currently end up in these countries. But while larger businesses and those looking for long-term growth should not ignore these markets, UKTI suggests that they are hazardous for first-time exporters. There is also great potential for UK exporters in markets as different as South America and the Muslim countries of the Middle East. But for many small firms, ‘doing exporting right' will continue to mean targeting safer developed countries, such as those in the eurozone. "We tend to think closer to home – places such as Ireland and the Nordic countries make good starter markets for small UK firms", says Martin Cook, director, regions, UKTI. Avoiding pitfalls Experts agree that, for small firms entering new markets – especially those embarking on exporting for the first time – it is vital to get it right as their financial base is smaller. Lesley Batchelor, Director of the Institute of Export (IoE), urges small firms not to be too ‘gung ho' about exporting, highlighting a host of issues for them to consider, from customer credit-checking and currency risks to insurances and intellectual property protection. She also warns small firms not to become ‘accidental exporters' that target a new market randomly or for no other reason than the offer of a place on a trade mission. "A free ticket to somewhere doesn't necessarily make it a good place to go," she says. "It's much more important to get some training, do thorough research and seek good advice".

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