The chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry tackles the misconceptions around exporting and introduces some of exporting advice services
Only about a third of London companies export. That’s not enough. As we hopefully claw our way out of recession and back to growth, the one thing on this rocky road that everyone agrees on is that exporting is one of the best ways to grow..
Of course, exporting can be daunting if you’re a company that has so far only done business domestically. Our last survey found that, of the two thirds of London companies that aren’t exporting, only around one in 20 are even considering exporting.
Part of the problem is that most companies don’t think they’ve got anything to export. But we find that once we sit down with a company and talk it through, they actually do have something to sell. Think about it – most of the things we do are universal. They may be packaged in a different way, or sold in a different way, but they are universal.
You might sell insurance, or legal services, or bicycles, you might make cakes or TV aerials. All those things are universal. And taking those goods and services to new markets means you can grow your company by selling abroad.
The obvious places to start looking at export opportunities at the moment are the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. There is real growth in those economies, and therefore a good chance of selling.
Some of the BRIC countries are showing particular demand for certain sectors. In Brazil, there are huge opportunities for education businesses. China has something of an obsession with British brands. There is a craving for quality and known quality, so the Burberrys and Paul Smiths and Land Rovers of the UK do very well, but they also create an overhang demand for Britishness per se, and this your company can capitalise on. British law still has a very strong reputation overseas, as do British accountancy standards and British education.
Goods-based businesses can get worried about their products being ripped off in emerging economies. We’ve worked with Brompton Bicycles, for example, which began exporting to China. Now, you’d think that Brompton would be scared rigid of someone making a thousand cheap copies of their quality products before they got through customs – and that is a danger. But the strength of having a brand that resonates with quality means that to a certain extent they can overcome that hurdle, even if it did happen.
All that said, if you’ve only ever sold in the UK, then exporting is a big leap. And it’s not right for everyone, even if it is right for far more companies than are currently considering it. Help is at hand. There are agencies and organisations out there, including us at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, that have years of experience and can make things easier.
If you are interested in exporting, the first thing to do is research the market or markets you’re considering. And we and others, in particular the government’s UK Trade & Industry (UKTI), host seminars, offer advice (often free), put on briefings, and run trade missions to help you.
There’s a lot of financial support out there for exporters, as well as advice. If you go on a trade mission, the organiser will usually access grants and negotiate deals to subsidise your trip. We recently ran a trade mission to Brazil, for example. We offered participants free flights, thanks to our chairman Willie Walsh, and a great amount of free market insight and a reception, courtesy of KPMG, which supported the mission.
Yes, you might still think that a country seems a long, long way away, and worry that you don’t speak the language, but there is a lot of help out there.If you make use of all the advice and support on offer, and do your research, you can capitalise on some truly amazing growth opportunities.
Colin Stanbridge is the chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry
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