Small business, big vision: eight tips for export success

Growing a small- or medium-sized business to the point of exporting goods and services for the first time – or expanding exports to a new country – can be a hugely rewarding experience for business owners. But if you’re starting from scratch, knowing how to begin to export your goods and services can also seem an intimidating task.

The good news is that help is out there, and there are many ways to develop the skills you need to successfully sell goods and services overseas. From travelling to trade shows, to looking for distributor partnerships and applying for possible funding, here are some great places to start.

Plan like a pro
While there is something to be said for plotting world domination on the back of an envelope, the most successful business owners never stop planning ahead. One aspect of this could be a business’s ambition for selling goods internationally. The Export Plan Builder, from the Department for International Trade, is an online tool that helps you build a bespoke business plan. It even incorporates live market data and information that’s relevant to your particular product or service. And you can’t find that on the back of an envelope.

Easily check the export rules for any country
The UK has secured trade agreements with 70 countries (as well as with the countries of the EU), and new agreements are always being negotiated. Want to try to get your fashion designs into stores in Japan, or to see if your brewery can cut it in the Australian beer market? For any country you’d like to export goods or services to, you can quickly find out what trade agreements exist between the UK and that territory on this dedicated section of the website. There are also some YouTube explainers. If you have questions about exporting to mainland Europe, you can simply ask the Export Support Service – a free service for all UK businesses – to clarify them for you.

Go back to school
Whether or not you went to business school, you can sharpen up your international business smarts by making full use of the UK Export Academy. This free-to-use resource connects UK businesses with international trade experts, offering tailored advice on how to sell goods and services internationally, or how to grow your business’s existing exports. Another option is training with the Institute of Export & International Trade: the UK’s largest provider of training in international trade, it offers more than 11,000 courses, up to and including master’s degrees. There is a membership fee to join, and the cost of qualifications depends on the courses.

Attend the right events
From trade shows to networking sessions, attending the right events can help strengthen your business and give you ideas for ways to grow your exports. The UK Tradeshow Programme is a new initiative that offers training and financial support to help companies successfully exhibit overseas. The Department for International Trade also hosts online workshops, local in-person events and international trade missions. See if there is one that works for you here.

Get insights on every destination
Different business markets around the world have very different mechanics, cultural norms and particularities, so you’ll want to tailor your export plans to suit the market you’re hoping to reach. To help you find export opportunities and prepare to export to new markets, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, check out the Department for International Trade’s Market Guides.

Think about joining a business organisation
From advisory hubs dedicated to boosting your exporting knowledge to access to customs and trade experts, a business organisation can be a mine of information for members. You may also be able to join regular webinars and Q&A sessions on the practicalities of international trade. Joining a group such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the Confederation of British Industry or the British Chambers of Commerce could help you to grow your business and export to more markets.

See if you could get a grant
Depending on your circumstances, your business might be eligible for a grant from the UK Government’s Internationalisation Fund. Match-funded grants of between £1,000 and £9,000 are available for future activity (subject to eligibility and availability). To secure a grant, you’ll need to fund a proportion of your costs yourself. This varies according to where your business is based, and will be either 40% or 50% of the total cost. The fund is currently available throughout England (except in the Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly region, which has its own similar scheme; and in London where applications have closed). Find out more here.

Unlock the power of financing
Access to financing can be the difference that helps you to win contracts, fulfil orders and get paid. Did you know that you can get finance and insurance from the UK Government? UK Export Finance (UKEF) is the UK’s export credit agency, and it can assist with insurance against buyer default, which helps you to get paid. It also works closely with banks to help businesses access the working capital they need to take on and fulfil bigger orders. Furthermore, UKEF aims to provide attractive financing terms to buyers, which could help boost your business’s prospects.

Find out more about how to start selling internationally or grow your company’s international markets by heading to

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