I would like to share my reflections on the ‘Emerging Europe’ conference held in London on the 8th November, 2012. The aim of the conference was to promote UK SME export interest in nine EU member countries in Central Eastern Europe.

Was this a good investment of tax payers’ money or just another big bash for the good and the great of officialdom?

UKunderperforms in its export potential to this region, as indeed to all other regions of the world. WE all could do better, so why do we not do so?

Unless we look and discuss critically the status of where we are, we will not arrive at our desired destination of growing our share of the world’s export market.

‘Emerging Europe’ conference listed as registered attendees 301 participants. A breakdown of this impressive number may give an indication of the Conference’s value to promoting the export potential of the targeted SME sector.

Over 50%, some 160 plus, were representatives from UKTI, Government Institutions, Embassies, Lawyers, Chambers of Commerce, Banks or Financial Institutions, Business Consultants, Media. The next major group were service providers.

Any manufacturing SMEs, the target clients of this conference, were few and far between.

Is this the norm for most UKTI sponsored conferences?

Is the offered ‘solution’ the problem?

How effective is the UKTI machine in reality, given its huge resources, global reach and high profile status of driving UK exports? Are there any independent statistics to show the real impact these resources are making. Unfortunately ‘independent’ may not be the right term to use as those who pay the piper usually get the tune they pay for. All major corporate failures had expensive ‘expert’ advise to guide them. Did those expensive insights fail because it was sycophantic watered down advice or because no-one actually acted on the prescribed medicine.

How many UKTI sponsored OMIS reports, the first step in accessing new markets, are actually followed up to market visits and actual business concluded? Trumpeting success does not necessarily mean actual success. Are SMEs a little fed up with attending these events and hearing basic information and examples of other people’s success through, perhaps, too many irrelevant case studies?

Is the ‘success story’ case study format, so beloved by UKTI, dead?

I believe it is.

Case studies illustrate someone else’s unique road to success, minus all the pitfalls and inadequacies. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to initiate a series of case studies based on ‘Failure to Export’; why  those who tried to export, failed. Perhaps there are common features which may guide us. Is it the lack of skills within the company, or is it the inability to understand the target market?

It seems no-one wants to touch failure, yet we can learn so much more from the common features of failure than from individual successes. These weaknesses of SMEs need addressing and understanding, beyond basic box ticking. Who is up for the challenge?

What remedy?

What is my conclusion and suggestion to drive change, to  instigate new confidence and skills amongst exporters and hence create real export growth? This is not about criticising UKTI or anyone else as I do not doubt their sincerity and determination. Perhaps, lost its ability to address the real issues facing SMEs. The honest opinion of SMEs would be very helpful

SMEs represent a very diverse group of business areas, skills and management styles. These attributes means that one size (e.g. a standard OMIS report) does not fit all needs. SMEs also have numerous export failings, irrespective of how good they are in theUKmarket.

Here lies the problem of how to indentify these inadequacies early on and to knowledgeably address them. I know there are UKTI programs to do this but in my opinion they do not work in a panacea format. Telling someone is not the same as intelligent mentoring. Those giving advice and support as well as the recipients need to challenge themselves, adapt and understand individual needs.

Let us put to the test fifty submitted OMIS reports which were not acted up by the recipients. Let us take 50 OMIS reports which were acted upon but led to no export success. The analysis of those 100 reports, honest discussions with the recipients may give some clues about how to be more effective as suppliers and consumers of those reports. If this has already been done, independently, please publish the results; even anonymously.

The UK is underperforming in exports and no messages of ‘green shoots’ will radically reduce the deficit, repay debt, create more jobs and taxes from profits. It is only the collective actions and business growth of SME businesses that can create that additional wealth. Those support companies, so numerous at the conference, serving a growing export sector will then also benefit. Let’s intelligently grow the export cake and then ALL eat it!

My lone voice carries no weight nor receives any attention. Only if those reading this article respond and voice their honest and open collective opinion on this forum can change begin to take place. Perhaps sharing the content of this artilce with others may draw more insights.

Perhaps the rallying cry should change from ‘Export or Die’ to ‘ADAPT or Fail to Export’

As Charles Darwin noted:

“It is NOT the fittest or the most intelligent of the species that survives, but the most  ADAPTABLE”.

Waclaw A Slezak

Advantage Europe Ltd.


Countries: Europe
Topics: Export Concept, Getting Started, and Management
Export Action Plan