We are International � and your firm could be too
Two years ago, during Export Week 2012, the LEP launched its export campaign – We are International.
Back then our region faced major challenges in overcoming our estimated £1billion annual trade deficit. Now, as we kick off Export Week 2014, we’re bucking national trends: Yorkshire was the only northern region to record export growth in 2013, and in our latest quarterly economic survey, all sectors reported an increase in international sales with services up 5% on the previous quarter and manufacturing up 4%.
There is clearly a growing appetite for exporting among small and medium-sized businesses in Leeds City Region, with more than 300 SMEs having taken advantage of advice and support through the LEP’s Export Network. What sets the Network apart from others is that it connects would-be exporters with business people in their industry who’ve already overcome common hurdles and are now trading in markets worldwide.This addresses what small businesses tell us is the main barrier to trading overseas: practical issues, such as a lack of local contacts in or intelligence about their target markets.
International trade is critical to my company, Radio Design’s, plans for growth. Our international business has grown from 27% to around 70% in the past four years, and we now employ more than 300 people in China, India, Finland and the UK. As we’ve become more experienced, and our success in international markets has grown, we’ve invested more and more resources to crack new markets. Currently in our sights are the US, Middle East and Africa.
Our Export Network gives me – and the 50 other business people who’ve signed up to become LEP export ambassadors – the opportunity to share the benefit of these experiences with businesses in Leeds City Region who are similarly looking to grow their international capabilities. Many of the companies I’ve met as a result of the Network are already exporting, and have identified which markets they want to enter. What they need, which the Network can provide, is practical, first-hand advice to put their plans into action.
For example, the MD of an electronics firm whom I met at an Export Network event earlier this year (not a competitor I hasten to add) was looking to expand his company’s presence in the Indian market. We set up Radio Design’s Indian operation back in 2008 and now employ 30 people in Delhi manufacturing solely for that market. I was able to put the City Region firm in touch with my India MD and my accountant in Delhi – trusted advisers on the ground. The company is now setting up its own Indian operation – right next door to Radio Design India!
My starting point for breaking into the Indian market was jumping on a plane to Delhi on spec, but the first steps towards trading internationally don’t have to be that drastic. A wide range of support is available from UKTI, chambers of commerce and other specialist agencies, and can be invaluable.
I took advantage of UKTI support in the early days of Radio Design, and it certainly helped make our first export experiences easier. UKTI’s market events are a good starting point in understanding which markets might be right for your business or industry and, once you have a target market in mind, they can help build the intelligence that is an essential first step to trading overseas. Legal and regulatory issues are an oft-cited stumbling block to entering new markets, but chambers of commerce can help firms navigate red tape as well as provide contacts overseas. The LEP works closely with Enterprise Europe Yorkshire, which helps companies win new business in the EU – still the Leeds City Region’s largest trade partner despite challenging business conditions in the Eurozone – and there is even finance on offer through organisations such as UK Export Finance.
The essential ingredient to successful exporting, however, is realising the opportunities in international markets and then being proactive about pursuing them. Trading internationally can offer companies in Leeds City Region immense growth potential, as Radio Design’s experiences show. If your company has a market here, it could have markets anywhere, so give it a go. Work through the barriers, take the time and effort to learn, and you will be successful.