How to start trading internationally

Trading internationally is not an exclusive club for big businesses with a huge turnover. It's something anyone, from a one-man T-shirt designer to a part-time candlestick maker, can achieve and benefit from.

Why do it?

Statistics from UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) show that companies that take the plunge and secure sales abroad improve their productivity by 34%. They are also 12% more likely to survive and excel in the world of business than those who don't export.

With the recent news that the UK has fallen into a double-dip recession, Heather Booth Di Giovanni, the director of economics and evaluation at UK Trade & Investment, says British businesses should look for opportunities abroad in order to grow and ensure their businesses stay open.

"In the context of a depressed British market, the benefits of sustained revenues from a well diversified portfolio of overseas customers are even more vital," she says. "We should not forget that there are opportunities in overseas markets, which are still growing, and that new opportunities are constantly opening up."

UKTI statistics also reveal that businesses believe that exporting leads to innovation. In fact, 53% of businesses they spoke to said that a new product or service has evolved because of their business overseas.

Emma Jones, author of the book Going Global, agrees with this view. "It's never been more important for small businesses to start trading internationally," she says. "Our exchange rate is also good at the moment, which means our goods are cost competitive. With two billion people online, many of them in emerging countries, the opportunities are endless."

How to do it

Emma Jones also wants to bust the myth that selling your products abroad is difficult. "Foreign markets are now more accessible than ever before," she says.

Kate Castle is a perfect example of an entrepreneur who has capitalised on this. She used www.alibaba.com to find a supplier of stools as well as a supplier for disposable bags. She then put the two together and made her product, Bog in a Bag, a disposable toilet. Castle now sells her product back to countries all over the world through Alibaba. "She's using Alibaba to source and sell her product. It's a beautiful business that may not have been possible ten years ago, but sites like Alibaba have made it possible," says Jones.

She carried out a survey and found that 67% of new businesses are going global within the first few years of trading and she wants the rest of the UK small business economy to join them.

She doesn't believe location and lack of funds should be an issue. "I recently met a young lady who was running a business called showpony.co.uk, importing fairtrade bags from India. She puts her own design on them and them exports them all over the world via websites like www.etsy.com, all from a flat in Glasgow," she says.

Help to get you started

UKTI offers plenty of support to get you started trading abroad. Using Market Visit Support new exporters can target customers overseas by arranging visits to specific markets as part of an organised group. UKTI will help ensure your company gets the most from the trip and can even provide funding to assist with travel and accommodation costs.

They also offer the Passport to Export programme for those who are new to exporting. This gives inexperienced exporters free capability assessments, support in visiting potential markets and mentoring from a local professional.

International Trade Advisors in regional UKTI offices can help you get the ball rolling and answer any questions you have.

Check out the 'Exporting for Growth' tool to discover how you can benefit from exporting.

All this evidence shows going global is a reality for small businesses and an option they should consider when searching for ways to grow their business.

For more information on how to sell abroad,visit www.ukti.com

For more information on Alibaba.com, click here

For more information on Emma Jones, follow her on twitter @emmaljones


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