Are you a small or medium-sized business looking to break into international markets?
Great shout, we’d say. Making your products or services available to overseas consumers — particularly through ecommerce — can be a fantastic way of quickly expanding your audience and revenue streams.
But, as with most things, it’s rather easier said than done.
As a leading provider of professional language services since 1998, we’ve helped many SMEs to grow their international reach by communicating effectively, authentically and appropriately with new, foreign consumers.
Although there are many, many things to consider when expanding overseas, let’s touch on five that we feel to be particularly important.
5 things to consider if you’re thinking of exporting from the UK
1. Is exporting right for my business?
So, exporting is a fabulous way to kickstart further growth — increasing revenue and profitability — but hold your horses. Is it right for you at the current moment?
Exporting can be an expensive and risky venture.
As a general rule, the most successful exporters are those who are already doing well domestically. So, if your sales are increasing within the UK and you feel that you’re ‘coasting’, you’re in the ideal position for exporting success.
To satisfy increased product demand from your new customers, overseas expansion necessitates increased resource; successful businesses are usually more adaptable and able to accommodate this additional market development — as well as absorb the blow of any setbacks if an exporting campaign doesn’t go to plan.
Getting your overseas marketing up and running also requires an initial capital investment which can be challenging for smaller businesses. Making sure you’re already in a good financial place is key. Invoicing and packaging can become more complex overseas, so you may need to consider additional human resources or software investment.
Competition should also factor into your thinking when deciding whether to pursue a new market. Are your business’s competitors exporting? If so, where? This will show that it can be done successfully, but can also indicate a crowded market. Who would your local and regional competition be in any new marketplace?
2. Choosing your market: where will I succeed?
Once you’ve decided exporting could work for you — or, indeed, in order to help you decide — you need to consider who it is that you’re targeting. Where are your new customers and growth opportunities? In which overseas markets is there a demand for your products or services? Which countries’ consumers have the means to purchase your products?
Perhaps the most valuable, specific insights will come from your own research — delving into the health and vibrancy of the overseas sector, exploring gaps in the market and room for growth.
Whether it’s financial, healthcare, technology, electronics, clothing, cosmetics or another area, a deep dive will provide clues as to the most lucrative, wealthy and likely-to-convert audiences. If you’ve got a highly niche product, it might be suited specifically to a certain country.
For UK exporters looking to dip their toes into international trade, the most popular destination is the United States, accounting for approximately 15% of all exports, followed by a number of EU countries. Geographical proximity, consumer spending power and linguistic and cultural similarity can make exporting more straightforward.
Countries Ranked by UK Exports
Percentage of UK exports
Source: Trading Economics.
Canada is another popular choice, accounting for 2% of everything leaving the UK. Further afield, the Arabian Gulf countries are also hotspots — UAE (1.6%), Saudi Arabia (0.93%) and Qatar (0.85%) — with Japan (1.9%) and South Korea (1.4%) other popular non-EU destinations for UK exports.
When gauging a market’s viability and the ability of consumers to buy your goods and services, there are many other indicators you might find helpful.
- Per capita GDP: steady growth is usually the hallmark of a thriving, stable economy
- Internet penetration: as well as ecommerce penetration, those looking to maximise online retail success overseas should pay attention to the most ‘online’ markets
- Employment rates: a hallmark of the wealth and prosperity of a country’s consumers and the success of its businesses
- Purchasing Managers’ Index: provides clues as to the health of the manufacturing sector in a country
- Consumer Price Index: a gauge of inflation that can be useful for deciding on where to invest.
Cold, hard number crunching doesn’t quite tell the whole story, of course — your own research will ultimately help to illuminate the best markets.
3. Marketing your brand: speak their language
Once you’ve decided on your new foreign audiences, you need to market to them. This might include websites, social media content, packaging and digital and offline advertising.
Language is key — you need your new audience to be able to understand your business proposition, ensuring cultural awareness and alignment of tone of voice.
This is where the value of professional translation becomes extremely clear. A language service provider (like us!) can help you to authentically localise all your marketing and communications, nailing all linguistic cultural nuances so you hit the ground running in your new marketplace.
Quality translation boosts user experience, trust, understanding and sales. Even if they understand English, research shows that people are far more likely to do business with you if you make the effort to communicate to them in their native tongue.
- 72% of consumers are more likely to buy products in their native language
- Three-quarters of consumers want information about products available in their own language
- 40% of consumers will not buy in a foreign language
- 82% are less likely to buy goods if information is not available in their own language
- More than half of consumers (56%) say having information in their own language is more important than price.
A well-translated website is your business’s 24/7 shop window, allowing customers to learn about your products and services. Social media and online advertising campaigns in foreign languages can also be hugely rewarding, enabling you to drill down demographically and target certain audiences that are most likely to convert.
It’s not just sales, though. Language localisation can also be a big hit for brand awareness, allowing your business to appear in foreign language search engine results for searches that your target audience are performing. Who doesn’t want a big slice of digital real estate in the country you’re targeting?
A professional, local touch
So, translation is crucial — but anyone can have a go at it, right? Perhaps you have an in-house A-level Spanish or German graduate? Or maybe you’re thinking that GCSE or O-level in French could finally come in useful (apart from the half-hearted attempts to communicate at the boulangeries of central Paris)?
We’d encourage you to think again. Poor-quality translation has many pitfalls. We’ve all read poorly-translated English, sometimes with hilarity; it doesn't instil trust in a company and first impressions count.
The same applies to raw, unedited machine translations. Without a native linguist’s eye, they can lack authenticity and risk technical inaccuracy — showing your audience that you can’t be bothered, basically.
You may also need to consider your designs. Text can expand or contract when it is translated into other languages. French-to-English translations, for example, usually contract by about 10–15%, with English-to-French translations typically expanding by 15–20%, depending on subject matter.
Some overseas consumers also have different expectations of web or packaging designs — Arabic, for example, reads from right to left, which can necessitate new layouts for banners, images and text. An experienced translation partner can help you here.
4. The technicalities: Brexit, licences, duties, taxes, rules and restrictions
Any successful exporter needs an efficient, reliable and cost-effective way of moving goods. Again, easier said than done.
Unfortunately, exporting from one country to another can necessitate a great deal of form-filling and box-ticking. Understanding the rules, regulations and procedures involved in getting your products to consumers safely and quickly can be complex and time-consuming. As with discovering your markets, research and planning is key.
Many first-time exporters find success in appointing an agent to deal with customs and getting products out of the UK border and into the destination country.
- Certificates, licences and product standards: If you’re exporting certain goods or services — for example, medical devices, drugs, medicines or chemicals — you’ll usually require the relevant certifications or licences. Fortunately, gov.uk has a handy list of products and services that require a licence in order to export, which is in addition to a helpful step-by-step guide for getting goods out of the country and into another (if you want to go it alone without an agent).
- Classifications: As well as having an EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification number), check if you need to register for VAT. Then comes classifying your goods — this is done by finding the correct commodity code.
- Brexit: The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union has provided exporters (as well as importers!) with uncertainty and a few additional headaches. It’s possible to use the UK government website to check what rules, restrictions, taxes and duties might apply to the products or services you’re looking to export. Ensure your target audience is able to receive the goods or services you’re planning to market to them and see whether any extra information is needed.
- Customs declarations: Completed invoices and certificates should travel with your goods, including any other documentation. Export declarations can be handled by your transporter, freight forwarder or customs agent.
Exporters may also want to consider the following:
- Currencies: Dips in the value of a currency can affect your profit margins (or even improve them!), so being clued up on exchange rates is helpful. To assist with overseas transactions and receiving international payments, as well as mitigate the need to keep switching currencies, a multi-currency account can be useful.
- Intellectual property: If you’re the inventor of a product and wish to protect it from being copied or mimicked overseas, you’ll be required to submit a patent specification at the relevant office of the country you’re targeting. In another blog post, we’ve talked in a little more detail about protecting your products and ideas and the value of a patent to exporters.
- Insurance: To protect yourself against product damage in transportation as well as the risk of non-payment, you may also want to consider an export insurance policy.
- Keeping a record: It goes without saying, but paperwork is key. Keep hold of all your proof of export documentation, commercial invoices and records.
5. Networking, grants & government schemes
A bit of help can’t hurt, right? As well as their useful step-by-step guide for exporting that we mentioned earlier, the UK government’s Department for International Trade offers a number of resources aimed at helping UK businesses to export successfully.
Through the DIT, businesses are able to call on the expertise of international trade specialists and advisors, as well as browse current export opportunities, webinars and trade fairs. They also provide e-exporting guidance, grants for attending overseas fairs and dedicated networking events to help match up businesses.
If you’re exporting and can’t get financial support from your bank, it might be worth exploring government-backed finance schemes, like UK Export Finance. They also provide advice on minimising financial risk.
Other government-affiliated schemes like the Export Marketing Research Scheme can also help small businesses to suss out new markets; the scheme can provide free advice and cover up to 50% of the costs of marketing research in the form of a grant.
For advice with all the relevant trade documentation, the British Chambers of Commerce have a number of useful international trade guidance and training resources. They also answer any questions you may have about the export process.
Taking your products or services to new audiences?
Exporting is a big step for any business. There’s undoubtedly lots of thinking, research and strategic planning to be done.
As a leading translation agency established in 1998, we’ve partnered with smaller businesses across many industries to get marketing and other material ‘export ready’, enabling them to communicate authentically and effectively with new audiences.
If you want to hit the ground running with your overseas customers, speaking their language is crucial.
To discuss your translation needs and requirements, drop us a message today or reach us over the phone on 01943 839227 (+44 1943 839 227 outside of the UK).