To start with, I believe all UK companies should be exporting – or at least seriously considering it. There doesn’t seem to be much understanding of the importance and value of exporting our goods overseas. It’s not just about shipping product out of the UK; it creates great value for staff and customers alike, and allows for a greater stability for owners. Exporting can also help to boost staff retention. There are so many benefits to exporting, and yet as a country we communicate these benefits poorly to smaller companies with, in my opinion, a small island mentality.
We have so many gifts in Britain that give us a huge competitive advantage, and yet we spend time selling to each other when we could sell better abroad. Are we not profoundly lucky to speak English as our first language? Worldwide almost everyone speaks the same language of business in English so why would we not capitalise on this?
There is a massive potential across the globe for new business and lower hanging fruit. Whatever you’re selling, the one thing I have found is universal in any country is that people like a straightforward and open approach. Apply this; pack your humility; put a smile on your face and head off on an adventure. Why wouldn’t you?
Lots of small businesses seem scared to export; there are lots of perceived challenges which to be honest are all perfectly possible to overcome with a little determination.
Encourage your staff to do their own market discovery; just extend a holiday and go and do some homework! It’s not such a huge investment when you consider that you can travel to most of Europe for less money than travelling to Birmingham from London these days. World tickets allow extraordinary value if you are willing to graft and sleep standing up – and most of us as entrepreneurs are already doing that any way in order to keep our businesses expanding and successful.
I wonder, are the British too lazy, too slow, too complacent? We are generally pretty poor at selling! Characteristically, we don’t like to put ourselves out there. This doesn’t help because we don’t even know how to sell; we don’t professionalise the sales game and for many Brits, “sales” is a dirty word. Other countries are much more embracing of the idea that we need to sell in order to survive, whatever business we are in.
To be a professional sales engine we need a structure and a process, and to understand the steps of the selling process. Most of this is already embedded in any established business, but often not in a formalised way. The bit we need to learn when it comes to exporting is the translation; learning some tricks of the trade for example respecting other people’s cultures and understanding how they differ from our own.
With any business, it is sales that push things forward – so we should all be prioritising sales in order to grow. Why on earth do we not train our sales staff? And why are we not passionate about the importance of sales and sales training? We are not good at it, and we really need to be. Being proud of being in the sales game is the first step – are you proud to say you’re in sales? Because whatever you think your business is, whatever game you think you might be in, the truth is that if you’re in business you’re in sales – whether you like it, whether you’re proud of it or not.
We Brits have to stop expecting things to fall into our laps. For me, the tipping point of becoming a professional sales organisation is when the owner/founder/manager stops being a benevolent dictator and goes to the sales side of the business, employing professional management to get the job done. That’s a brave and tough move, but it’s often a necessity. I did that; I had to pay someone £126,000 while I was only paying myself £24,000 and at the time that was a hard pill to swallow but it allowed me to continue selling, and the business to continue growing. My new manager did all the dull, boring stuff I was no good at anyway; no entrepreneurs are good at the dull boring stuff, but we need to hire people who are in order to get anywhere. It’s a brave step in deciding your role. Do what you are best at, and hire people to cover what you can’t do, or find too boring to keep up with.
If you want to take your business to the next level, to build a capital asset, a business with real market value which you can then sell if you wish, you really need to put a structure and process in place, professionalising sales. Once this is done, the leap to exporting your product overseas is really a much smaller step.
Exporting can seem daunting and perhaps a bit scary – but as entrepreneurs, aren’t we already doing scary things every single day? Once you take that step and begin exporting, you realise that actually, it’s no more scary than any of the other steps you’ve taken with your business to get it to this point, and the benefits will always outweigh the risks.