Exporting made simple: getting there

Should you wish to discover more about the possibility of expanding to an export market, the cheapest way these days is to get on a plane and visit it. Here you will find a list of suggestions to pre-plan your trip to make it as useful as possible and some ‘in country’ hints and tips for maximising your success on arrival. Prior to visiting a new marketplace it is necessary to make sure that your time will be utilised fully while there, so the more research that is done prior to visiting, the more costeffective the actual trip. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself.

  • Do I have appointments arranged which may lead to orders? Aim for eight solid appointments each day – some of these may only be catalogue drop-offs, pre-prepared the night before. In a strange place, it is interesting and fun getting around and, after all, if you maximise your exposure and opportunity potential you may have a good reason to come back. You should have a target sales figure in mind which more than covers the cost of exploration and market research. Here is a clever way of appearing slightly more sizable than you are – have your PA (a luxury I could not afford in the early days, and you could do this yourself) fax or email in advance of your global tour announcing your arrival days and availability. This shows that your time is limited and, when done in advance of trips, it is a powerful way of filling up your diary.
  • Do my products require any particular licences or special paperwork for importation into a new market?
  • Are there any barriers to entry? If so, what are they?
  • Are there any leading suppliers native to the particular marketplace that have monopolies?
  • What is the customer’s response to the potential of my visit?
  • Is my industry in growth or decline within this market?
  • Is there financial stability? Are there any potentially difficult currency issues?
  • Is there a sample tax? For example, two of the islands in the Caribbean have a US$400 sample tax, which you have to pay in order to take samples and brochures in.
  • Will there be adequate mobile coverage? Will there be facilities for email or fax? Check to see if communications are OK.
  • Should staff security issues be reviewed?

If these questions point to a negative and unprofitable outlook, then a trip to that particular marketplace may not be viable. If the answers are positive and the market looks encouraging, the next path would be to contact various organisations who can help. I have always found asking for assistance and advice easy. You are meant to be able to get assistance from government funding and organisations, and of course these days there is a huge amount of information – and useful check lists – available online on any subject you care to imagine. So use these sources, they will save you hours of pointless thinking and planning and allow you to concentrate on content and adding value.

The UK Trade and Industry Department is a massive and helpful resource in this area; searching online for ‘exporting’ will lead you to them. The British Embassy or High Commission in the area you are planning to visit is another potentially good contact and, providing the right questions are asked, useful information can be obtained from them too. This assistance can cost, however. The fees for some of the work may seem expensive, and frankly I think there are lots of ways of avoiding this cost, but your industry may not be quite as obvious as hospitality. The time and effort this could save might well pay dividends.

You may also be a member of a business organisation – such as the Entrepreneurs Organisation (www.entrepreneurs.org) – which could help, and if you are not, then membership is certainly something you should consider. The international spread of other entrepreneurs can shortcut your way to local knowledge and locally important contacts in a priceless fast-track way. I never made enough use of this but was always overwhelmed by the generosity of time and information such like-minded near-strangers gave.

From talking to the relevant organisations you may find that there is an independent body which will liaise with you more closely, as these independents are more concerned with the growth and development of the country by expanding suppliers and looking for alternative import markets. For example, CARITAG is the Caribbean Trade Advisory Group to British Trade International. You may find that these independent bodies will give you people to talk to who perhaps have been exporting for several years to your chosen market, and this will give you real information.

Do note that the above process is all about contacting, faxing, emailing, talking to the right people and finding out what is available for you to use. Make sure you leave plenty of time and allow for communication problems and lazy replies.

Te advantages of forward planning:

  • Orders can be placed more quickly from prospects gathered in advance.
  • Time will be spent in actual ‘contact’ time whilst there.
  • Arranging the itinerary logically may save costs in flights.

As a cost-effective business person in a new market area you should have looked into:

  • The best flight deal.
  • The best accommodation package. Make sure your hotel caters for the business traveller, especially if the market area is a typical holiday destination. Additional costs can creep up due to email and faxing charges if the hotel is not geared towards the business market.
  • Transportation. Public transport is obviously the cheapest way to travel but may not be practical when carrying samples. Car hire is by far the best choice for getting lots done in a day. Taxis are fine for short journeys but are expensive and add to bottom-line costs. And study a map before you travel; if you have a few appointments in one day make sure the locations are close enough to be practical, however you travel.
  • Find out if there are any public holidays or special events – for example, cricket can make the Caribbean come to a standstill.
  • If samples and documents are sent in advance, allow plenty of time for them to clear customs; it may also be possible to include an express release letter.
  • Is there a local show/exhibition/event that you can link your trip to, in order to maximise exposure?
  • If you are attending an exhibition, remember that exhibition companies have a lot of planning information available, so use it.

You also need to consider cultural respect and the value of language. Do not underestimate the value of a small amount of effort put into learning foreign terms and simple words and phrases. Take a genuine interest in the country you are visiting and the people in it, and your opportunities will unfold.

Whilst there:

  • Use Yellow Pages and other business directories. Look through the directories and make sure you are familiar with the relevant businesses in your market. Look at other sections too; so for Pacific that would have meant looking at tourism organisations, construction companies, hotel and catering equipment suppliers. Make a call to a few and explain what you are doing in the market. Incidentally, suppliers who are already established in the location may also want to see you – firstly to find out what products you are selling, but also to find out whether you are going to threaten their business. So be very clear and keep things open.
  • Do some shopping. Try to visit possible outlets which offer your type of products in the market, if relevant. You may find local manufacturers, and you will also get an understanding about where the products (again, you need to generalise beyond your business) are being imported from or manufactured. If you can find out and it looks worthwhile, try to get an appointment. You never know, you may find a new supplier for your business; however, the likelihood is that you will gain greater understanding of what you are up against.
  • Don’t forget confirmations. Double-check your appointments, and try to arrange more. If you have made the effort to travel, people do tend to be more approachable and may make the effort to see you.
  • Talk to taxi drivers. This may sound a little odd, but the information taxi drivers hold is unbelievable. If you find a taxi driver who is good, take a card and use him again. They tend to have little gems of useful information.

There are some additional points to consider, too. Firstly, not everyone in the world is a workaholic, and working times abroad can be quite different. Certain areas of the world are very laid back and the working day may finish at 3 or 4 p.m. – though the normal start could be 7 a.m. Try to find this out prior to your trip, so you can plan your time carefully. Another good idea is to write a daily diary, including who you have met, contact names and details, information you have found out. Business cards can come in handy but a daily diary makes you remember much more. It can also be helpful back in the office, so that both the office and you are communicating. Depending on the day, it should be easy to write out in about half an hour. Take thorough notes on your enquiry sheets, too; fill out all the information you think you could possibly need. And don’t forget to get enquiries back to the office as soon as you can in an easy format to understand – this way, quotations can be sent out more quickly on your return and your business will look more efficient.

Always ask, ask, ask. In every appointment, try to find out what people find hard to source, whether they have delivery problems, all the additional questions. A foot in the door, with branded pens, may lead to business later. Give people your email address, and let them know that you can be contacted for the remainder of your trip in case they forget something. Make them aware that you are approachable. And finally, always discuss your terms and conditions of trading in detail, with a great focus – and an open conversation – on payment terms and trade timing. Too often a customer may really love a product but the trading terms they are offered negate any real interest. In most cases you will have to match or beat the service terms of a current supplier.

You need to think about freight, too. To get the best rates, shop around. When visiting a country that you are likely to export to, and perhaps where you will require import services following sales, always find out who are the top players in the freight industry and where possible make face to face appointments with them. Do your usual supplier diligence but also ask the people you meet and the customers you service how freight works for them and which services they prefer.

One final note: of course, there are boundaries and restrictions, and common sense should apply when travelling to some countries. I’ve been lucky; in the soap-sales world there has been no need to travel to war zones. There are also some territories where a man will still be better received than a woman, but times are changing and I have only ever felt disadvantaged by being female in Saudi Arabia. Only once did I ever feel unsafe on my solitary travels, and that was arriving in Mexico City at 2 a.m. and having to find a cab at a deserted airport. It was only a momentary fear and I have found that with luck, a solid composure and outward confidence much can be achieved.

Lara’s laws

  • It’s more enjoyable, less stressful and frankly more fun to work eighteen hours a day when you are away from your family.
  • Pre-planning, with targeted success, ensures you focus on maximising your potential.
  • Reduce time wasted in follow-up by utter clarity during face to face meetings to ensure you have not wasted your efforts.
  • After-trip follow-up is paramount. Plan time to make sure this happens before you return to your daily routine chaos, or the momentum of your trip is wasted.
Topics: Getting Started and Market Research
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