How to start exporting

Wanting to export and actually being able to ‘go global’ are two very different things. Whether your business sells products or services, exporting can be confusing for many.

We reviewed some of the most commonly asked questions we have seen about exporting and provided our insights below.

How do I start selling abroad?

To begin with start small and try exporting to one or two international markets. This means you can concentrate on the specific needs of customers in different countries – they are likely to be different.

Consider translating your website and some of your marketing material into the local language of the country you are targeting. This will help increase your visibility and accessibility to new customers online. You could even buy the local version of your domain name.

Which sales channels are best for exporting?

There are many sales channels open to you when your business starts exporting, but which one is right for your particular product or service? Below, we consider three of the most popular ways to get started.


A distributor will buy your product from you and then sell it on to their own customers.

This can be a cheap and simple way to sell your products in foreign countries. However, you do lose control of how your product is sold to customers and you are likely to need to sell your product at a discount to attract the distributor to the arrangement.

Check out our interview with Start Up Loan recipient Seaweed & Co to find out more about their experience of exporting using distributors.


Overseas representatives are agents local to your export market and are paid a commission on the sales they make. Typically, this can be as little as 2.5% or as much as 20% depending on the type of product or service you offer.

Representatives are reliant on commission and you retaining their services. This means they are more likely to follow your discretion and respect your wishes with regard to pricing, product positioning and promotion.

Online Channels

Whether it’s through your e-commerce website or through e-marketplaces like Amazon Global Selling or Alibaba, there is plenty of opportunity for your business to make sales online to customers all over the world.

As this Open to Export article explains, when selling internationally online you need to focus on the specific needs of the customers in the country you are targeting. To help this consider having local language translations of whichever e-commerce platform you are using to help your customer understand your product or service. A local payment option is also important, Paypal is a trusted, internationally recognised payment service, but local payment services such as Alipay (China) can also be useful.

How do I get paid when exporting?

Getting paid for your products or services is what you go into business for, but collecting international payments can sometimes be difficult.

As international market research company and Start Up Loan recipients, Fieldscope highlighted when we interviewed their founder, Peter Chuludoing due diligence on organisations you will be working with in your target country is important. It can ensure your business works with trusted, reliable local businesses who are likely to pay you on time.

As mentioned, using global payment systems like Paypal can make getting paid easier for direct sales to customers.

Managing your cash flow is also crucial if your business is to succeed. To help with cash flow planning make sure that you find out from your bank how long it will take to be paid from international accounts. This can be up to 6 weeks in some cases. It is also worth asking about potential bank charges for international transfers.

Card payments may be simpler as they convert foreign currency into pound sterling, but bear in mind additional credit card charges (sometimes up to six percent) and that the exchange rates will fluctuate.

Open to Export offers an opportunity for a small business to win £3,000 to start their export dreams

With a growing number of SMEs identifying the opportunities that trading globally presents – but daunted by taking what they see as a big step – Open to Export is offering small businesses the chance to win £3,000 to implement their export plan.

Open to Export is a Government-backed, digital platform offering advice about how to start exporting. To enter you will need to submit an Export Action Plan – Find out more.

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