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9 steps to take before you export

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.

It’s a big world out there and, according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), one in which export growth will increase.

A global middle class is set to grow to 5 billion meaning your business has a potentially global customer base.

With the UK government launching its Export is Great campaign there has never been more government-backed support for startups looking to export.

If you decide that exporting is for you, then how do you go about it? Take a look at our nine tips to consider before you export.


1. Research your market

Research is key if you want your business to succeed abroad.

You will need to do everything you did when you sold in the UK – research your target market, your competition and your niche.

On top of this, you will need to understand the culture of the country you’re exporting to.

For advice on market research and much more check out our essential guide to starting a business.

There are plenty of tools available to help online via the UK Trade and Investment website, including a country-by-country guide to exporting.

Attending trade fairs and missions can also increase your knowledge of target market.

Be sure to research what events are happening in your area.


2. Consider the legal, financial and cultural differences

You will need to be aware of any tax or legal differences that could impact your business.

This could mean making a minor alteration to a product to fit with trading standards or making sure you are paying tax correctly on transactions.

When selling abroad there are tax implications that need to be considered especially around paying VAT if you are transferring goods out of the UK.

Tax help can be found via the HM Revenue & Customs website.

It is a good idea to contact the UK embassy in the country or region you intend to export to for information regarding exporting.


3. Identify 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?



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.



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.


4. Is it financially worthwhile?

After your research and review process, does the opportunity still represent a good business opportunity?

Make sure that this is something your business is capable of in terms of finance, production capacity and time.

Above all else make sure that your business can achieve a good ROI (return on investment).


5. Identify how you get paid when exporting

Collecting international payments can sometimes be difficult.

Doing 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.


6. Make sure your business is secure

Protecting your product or ideas is vital at all times, but especially in a new market which you may not fully understand yet.

Ensuring that your intellectual property is safe from potential competitors or fraud is a must-do.

Take a look at our blog on how to protect your business. 


7. Be prepared to adapt to the new market

Follow up on any research you have done and don’t be afraid of altering your product to gain sales among your new target audience.

Your customers’ personal preferences will not be the same as they were in your home market.

McDonald’s as a brand is well known for using different ingredients depending on which country its franchises are in, right down to having completely different products in certain regions.

Make sure you think how new customers will consume your product or service – do they have different needs?

Does competition in your chosen market mean you might need to tweak your product for legal reasons or simply to make it stand out?


8. Write an export plan

UKTI advises that you should write an export plan for each new market.

Similar to your business plan it should cover straightforward things like your marketing strategy, your distribution plan, your business model and your budget.

Getting your goods from A to B will more difficult in a potentially unknown country.

Working through existing local distribution networks is one option.

This can be approaching existing retailers or service providers to offer your product or service.

It could be prudent to initially only 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.


9. Customer support expansion

Customer support is also an area that your business will need to have a solution to in your export plan.

Remember that selling abroad will thrust your customer feedback into the 24/7, global world.

You may need a solution to responding to customers at unusual times of day.

Customers will act differently in different seasons so be sure to research your target audiences so you are able to support their needs.

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.


Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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