How to take an SME global

Eric Hawthorn is the Managing Director of Shipley-based manufacturing business Radio Design and is a member of the LEP Board. Having grown his company from a start-up in 2007 to a global firm employing close to 300 people worldwide, he shares his insights on how to take a small business global.

As a schoolboy, I enjoyed pulling apart electrical things – then putting them back together. One of my early recollections involves an old valve radio which was the pride and joy of my auntie Anna. I carefully removed all the components and laid them out and cleaned the dust from each – only to find that something had been misplaced or removed and put back in the wrong order. I blamed it on the home help.

That was the end of that radio, but the beginning of a journey that has led me to build my own global business: Radio Design, based in Shipley. That early curiosity has never left. I believe it spurred me on when my business was ready to exploit emerging markets in the Far East. I offer a product that reduces the infrastructure costs for mobile networks, that need exists globally, so I knew if I could sell my product here, I could sell it overseas too. I believe many more businesses in Leeds City Region could grow their business and increase their profit by adopting this way of thinking.

However, results from the LEP’s business survey show some companies have not considered their products or services may be suitable for export. Others have not been aware of the benefits due to lack of knowledge of new markets. I really do feel this represents a significant lost opportunity. If the City Region increases exports by 10%, this has the potential to generate an additional £1 billion for the regional economy.

Refining options

Having the drive to make it happen is vital, but channelling energy productively is what yields results. My first experience of export was jumping on a plane to Delhi, but with hindsight, one thing I would have benefitted from was the specialist support now available. I encourage businesses interested in new markets to take advantage of the vast array of expertise on offer, from trusted organisations such as the UKTI and Chamber International.

Fundamental to taking your business global is market research. If you have an instinct for which markets you would like to target, the UKTI Export Market Research Scheme can help you refine this list. This means you can concentrate on the best opportunities and weed out less suitable options.

Northern Lights, a PR, marketing and social media company based in Harrogate, have successfully targeted Dubai. Three years ago, in the depths of recession, Chief Executive Victoria Tomlinson got on a plane to the Middle East, and within three months of the first trip, had won new business. Since their first trip Northern Lights have continued to grow their business overseas. Victoria says:

“UKTI is the government’s body to help businesses get exporting. We spoke to them and we’ve also heard of lots of other businesses who have had tremendous support. It is worth calling UKTI.”

Peer-to-peer support

If you are considering export, networks are important. The LEP Export Network is a peer-to-peer group of 50 LEP ambassadors, of which I am one. We can assist you with practical advice, provide mentoring support and connect you with contacts on the ground. It is a great way to test ideas and hear from veterans of international trade. We have already helped a Halifax brewing company establish an export strategy, a birth control manufacturer seeking to register products in the Middle East and a moisturising gel maker eyeing-up the Indian market.

Digital marketplace

The internet has made overseas markets more accessible, lowering the barrier to entry. It offers a great first step for exploring new opportunities. UKTI offer advice on global online market places, negotiating discount deals for British businesses. This is particularly suited to business to consumer products. Digital advisors with a range of specialisms will go through your options on a one-to-one basis.

It takes a combination of factors to succeed overseas. However the multitude of support and opportunities on offer means, like Northern Lights and my own business, you too can go global.

Want to grow? The LEP can help

If you are interested in exploring any of the support mentioned in this article, contact the LEP today on 0113 348 1818 or click here to find out more.