The Startup’s Guide To International Trade

Geography is a lot less of problem for businesses than it used to be. With travel, and especially technology, now binding the world closely together companies can cast their sights and ambitions far and wide in the search for customers.

International trade need not just be the preserve of multinational companies that have bases in different countries and continents. Start-ups taking their first steps into the market can, with a bit of work, have an international focus too.

It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing in business ever is. Here’s our guide to how to succeed:

The internet breaks down barriers

As we alluded at the very start, technology has broken down communication barriers and it is the advent of the internet that has opened up the chance for start-ups to have an international focus.

That means that all start-ups looking to take advantage of this must make the most of the technology available. A fully functioning website, social media channels and the ability to make and receive video calls must all be harnessed as a way of reaching out and grasping the opportunity. These are the absolute basics.

Why do you want to export?

Everything you do as a business should be based on sound research and planning and that’s the same with exporting. Why does an overseas market have an interest in your product? What demand is there abroad and how exactly can you meet it? These are the fundamental questions to ask yourself.

Also consider the nature of your international trade. Some people have a simple import/export relationship, others partner up with similar partners abroad to foster bigger and better joint operations (click here for the example of Airblast). While start-ups might not necessarily go for the latter route straight away, reaching out to other countries can help to put you in touch with contacts to deliver a successful relationship in the medium to long term when you’re established and have expanded.

Learn everything you can about your target market

You don’t just need to understand the customer demand, you also need to understand the trading conditions in your target market. From cultural differences – such as different bank holidays – to the rules on the tax and legal system, economy and political system, you cannot afford to get caught out. Be aware that small changes to the exchange rate could prove important, so you’ll need to understand how to track this carefully.

The practicalities of trade

Depending on your business interests, you’re likely to need to transport good and services overseas. You’ll need to consider shipping costs and methods to make sure this goes smoothly.

Consider too if you’ll need a small base – and maybe even an employee – abroad to help manage the ‘other end’ of your operation. On the other hand, it’s also possible to use agents in your target country, who can avoid the need for you to have a physical presence yourself.

The language barrier

If you want to do business in another country then you need to be able to converse with your target market. If the country doesn’t have English as a first language, then you must get up to speed with the vocabulary you need. It might also pay to employ translation services to help with your paperwork and any marketing material you might need.

Don’t be complacent and think you ‘know enough’ on this score. Your language knowledge has to be water tight to succeed in business.

Help and support

The Government offers support for ‘first time exporters’ – you’d be foolish not to use this and the other information freely available on the UK Trade and Investment website.

Find out whether you’ll need a licence to transport your goods and services abroad and what taxes you’ll have to pay on your goods.