How do I find the right international partner for my business?

international business partners
Having a checklist can help you decide between potential partners.

This week’s guest blog comes from Victoria Boldison, founder of Bolst Global: an export agency supporting small British health and wellness brands to internationalise. She gives some practical insight into how to go about selecting the right international partners for your business.

This is a question that, through my work supporting small businesses to export, I get asked countless times. Here is some advice and tips for businesses grappling with searching for the right international partner for their export journey.

  • Know firstly where you want to go and why

Before you start searching for partners, knowing where you want to export to has to be the starting point for anyone embarking on developing their international business. With 196 countries to choose from this can seem like a daunting task. However, it is important that after some top line research, and perhaps some initial scattergun approaches to different markets, you focus on a select few key markets which appear to be the most attractive for your business. Factors for selecting your select markets could be the size of the market, the demand for your product/service there, your prior market knowledge and contacts, and so on.

  • Pick the most appropriate route to market for your business

Next you need to be clear on how and with whom you are going to enter your chosen markets. This will be very different for everyone, dependent upon your product/service mix, the specific industry you’re working within, your business strategy, and often personal preferences for how you want to operate internationally.

Partners can take various forms including:

  • agents – individuals or organisations either in the local market or in your domestic market that seek out your customers on your behalf
  • distributors in the market who generally buy and hold stock and represent you along with other products/services
  • wholesalers or retailers that may happily purchase your product straight from you but then expect additional promotional support either directly or through some of their local partners which they use and with whom you may have to engage with as a result.

The kind of collaborations you could have are endless but in order to maximise your business opportunity, giving some consideration and focus to deciding your preferred route to market beforehand will reap greater rewards in the long term.

  • Have a ‘partner checklist’

Once you know which distribution channel is the most suitable for your needs you can start honing in on the finer details as to what this partner should be like in order that a business relationship with them can be fruitful. There are a number of questions I ask here including:

  • Which kind of customers/networks/geographical coverage should they have?
  • Which kind of products should they already be dealing with? (Competing or complementary?)
  • What kind of values and culture do they/their sales teams demonstrate and do they have a synergy with yours and your business?

By drawing up a checklist of what your ideal international partner or customer would look like, with the key attributes that are in your view fundamental to allow you to work together, you can be much more focused in your partner searches. With this you will be able to much more quickly discard prospective partners who don’t fulfil your needs and place your efforts and energy into those who do.

  • Get creative in your search

So once you’ve refined which markets to target, how you are going to enter them and what your ideal partners should look like, then it’s time to start looking for them! And this is certainly the part which most small businesses lack the know-how and resources to progress in their export efforts. But there are a number of ways you can try to be smart with this.

Some suggestions which may work for you include:

  • looking on your competitors’ websites – it’s amazing how many like to publish the names of all their export partners who may just be seeking to switch supplier
  • going onto the google webpage in your chosen market and using the google translate in the local language to seek out partners or customers you wouldn’t have found via the UK site
  • leveraging your existing British network of contacts and government or trade support within your industry who may be able to refer you onto potential partners
  • attending any national trade fairs in this market specific to your industry and where there will be plenty of potential partners for you – try to secure as many pre-arranged meetings there if you can to maximise the trip!

Good luck to all with your export adventures!

You can also visit the Bolst Global website here or follow on twitter @Bolstglobal for further articles on trading internationally and details of the export support on offer British health and wellness brands.

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