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It’s easy to get caught up in the ifs and whens of Brexit, but SMEs must remain focused on the opportunities. A proactive exporting strategy can help small businesses reach new customers and unlock significant expansion abroad.

exporting success beyond BrexitChris Daly from the Chartered Institute of Marketing offers advice on how to open the door to foreign markets and make sure your SME has exporting success beyond Brexit.

Exporting success

Tasked by the UK Government with increasing global exports from 30% to 35% as a share of GDP, the small business community has an opportunity to step up. Yet the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Export Ready research suggests that many SMEs have been slow to pursue exporting opportunities.

If British business is to sell products and services in new countries it will lean heavily on the marketing profession. Marketers exist to open up markets, at home and abroad, reach customers and ultimately sell products and services.

But exporting to new markets in unfamiliar countries is a considerable challenge. Every country has its own marketing culture and idiosyncrasies that will determine the success of a marketing strategy.

How can a small business navigate this challenge?

1. Mind the skills gap

For many businesses, the task seems daunting – they feel they lack insight, professional expertise, and experience.

One of the major barriers to exporting cited by the SMEs we spoke to in our research was a lack of professional marketing skills. The know-how to adapt marketing strategies for different markets and cultures is a particular problem area. The research also concluded that communication and relationship building skills were regarded as critical for expansion into new markets.

A professional marketing approach can provide a useful best practice framework, and support SME exporting success beyond Brexit.

If you are a business about to begin exporting the first thing to do it to ask yourself whether you have the marketing skills to succeed.

2. Level up

It shouldn’t be a revelation that the fastest way to achieve growth in exporting is to nurture the relevant international skills.

Training courses can be easily integrated into your employee’s schedules, and can address challenges relating to export skills or know-how. If the marketing skills don’t currently exist in your business, look for opportunities to upskill up your existing staff.

But where to focus this training? Negotiation and market research are a good starting point:

  • International Business Negotiation: A persuasive but collaborative negotiation style is an essential skill for SMEs. It can help secure better returns in terms of timelines, price or quality; ultimately contributing to bottom line profitability.
  • International Market Research: Key marketing skills such as country screening, understanding the macro environment and international product strategy are essential for wise investment.

3. Begin with strategy

Central to any professional marketing plan is a long-term strategy. To avoid sleepwalking into a post-Brexit future, you should take a proactive approach to exporting.

We were shocked to find that of the 300 plus UK SMEs interviewed in CIM’s Export Ready survey, the majority (66%) of those already trading abroad had yet to develop a specific exporting strategy.

An export marketing strategy is an essential first step. This level of planning enables businesses to correctly plan resource and avoid disruptive last minute surprises. It also provides a crucial focus for your activity.

4. Build an exportable brand

Your product or service will likely come across quite differently abroad, so it’s important to consider how to shape this.

It’s vital to proactively manage the way you project your brand’s personality and character to ensure the brand is perceived positively abroad.

This is where professional market research is key. Considerations such as the translation of the name, necessary localisation of references and local players within the product category are essential.

Less visible elements such as purchasing behaviour and approaches to decision making should be taken into equal consideration.

Centralised, generic approaches are unlikely to resonate with individual customers. Creating a unique, mindful approach for each market is more likely to heed results.

5. Use partners

Every country has its own marketing culture and unique characteristics, which can be daunting. Access to local knowledge about business habits, communication, expectations and best practice cannot be substituted.

This is why many businesses take advantage of intercultural partnerships. Local agents can offer knowledge of local markets to help you get a foothold, and coach you through the transition. Equally, overseas trade shows and groups can provide entry to new markets and reciprocal learning opportunities.

There are many sources of insight to take advantage of. The Department for International Trade, for example, provides essential market-specific knowledge and guidance, and CIM’s Export Ready Knowledge Hub offers advice, tools and access to training.

In an increasingly global world, exporting provides opportunities to businesses large and small. Taking a professional approach to marketing will get you ahead of the competition and ensure you are Export Ready.


By Chris Daly, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing