My ten top tips for trading overseas

Richard Smith is Managing Director of Surfachem Group Ltd, a 2M Holdings Ltd company and a chemical distributor that sells to over 60 different countries across the globe. Here, Richard shares his top tips for businesses interested in breaking into new markets.

1. Use the expertise of others

Speaking to an experienced exporter can help to significantly de-mystify the export process. They can advise you how to kick-start your journey, what research you should do and how you to do it, recommend trusted contacts, and even help to allay your fears and build your confidence.

If you don’t already know someone with the relevant experience, attend events that can connect you with export experts. I work with other experienced exporters as part of LEP’s Export Network to bring new exporters face-to-face with years of knowledge and tips on entering and operating in international markets.

2. Perseverance and hard work is key

Preliminary research means spending long hours at your desk or online. Look for online databases, market research, identify your competitors or companies similar to yours in the market you’re considering and look for feedback from their existing customer base. UKTI Export Market Research Scheme

Attend trade shows if you can, both in the UK and overseas, as a good network can be crucial when considering a new market.

Once you’ve gathered all of your research it’s time to consider the size of the potential opportunity.

3. It’s not difficult, just different

UKTI recently launched an export campaign entitled Not difficult, just different and it’s true: exporting isn’t as hard as you might think, it’s simply a process you haven’t been through before. Don’t be deterred by new policies and paperwork, once you’re over that first hurdle you’ll learn that export, in each new market or country, requires similar steps.

4. Make the most of the resources around you

Chamber International and UKTI have a range of literature, events and one-to-one guidance to help you plan and start your journey to export.

If you don’t know where to start or which organisation can provide the right support contact the LEP’s growth service on 0113 3481818 or Their business growth team will be able to get under the skin of your business and pinpoint the right support for you.

5. Keep using them

There is a range of support offered throughout the export process, not just at the start and not just at home.

Once you’re in market remember to utilise your local British Consulate and Embassy commerce staff, both of which act like an ‘overseas UKTI’. The Chamber, too, offer support services in Europe and organisations such as the China Britain Business Council or Enterprise Europe Yorkshire can help you with specific markets.

6. Utilise ‘made in Britain’

A product or service that is from Britain has a perception of quality and trust across the globe (this is particularly true in manufacturing). Ensure that your marketing plan fully leverages this ‘made in Britain’ aspect – it will get you a long way!

7. Look to your home market first

Your home market can act as a good research base: if you’re selling to a certain type of customer in the UK, is that same type of customer global? What are their characteristics? Can you find those same features in every country?

And it’s your original sales base: have you maximised your market share in the UK? Selling in your home market should always be easier than selling to an overseas one. Whilst export sales generally generate a higher margin, making the most of the UK market first can present some great opportunities that could make your export ambitions just that little bit easier. For example, when we moved into Poland it was at the request of an existing customer. They had identified Poland as their next market and they wanted a trusted distributor to supply them – us!

8. Choose a country you like!

If you have a choice of market, choose a country you like! It’s not unusual for people to pick a new market based on personal preference and it makes sense; pick a country you want to travel to, it will make looking for opportunities there that much easier.

9. Don’t overlook Europe

It’s often easier to export to Europe and it can be a good first step to trading overseas, not least because it’s closer to UK culturally and geographically. For us, Poland was a relatively easy market to move into and now that we’ve been exporting to there for a while we’ve overcome the majority of those initial barriers.

Other markets can be much harder: Brazil, for example, is another of our key markets but we encountered a lot of red tape and bureaucracy and it was much more complicated to break into than in the EU.

It’s important to find the right market for you but Europe can be a great starting point when considering you first international opportunity.

10. Embrace the opportunity

Trading overseas gives you the opportunity to visit new countries, meet new people and understand different cultures and customs. Exporting can introduce you to different ways of working which can have enormous benefits to so many aspects of your business.

And once you’ve taken that first step into exporting, do it again! can then start looking at the next market and start a more systematic approach. And enjoy it – exporting can be challenging but extremely rewarding!