Now that many areas of the world are starting to slowly and carefully exit their Covid comas, many companies need to consider how to effectively kick-start their business growth once again. One option for doing this is to expand into international markets (I’m a strong believer that any small business serious about growth should export) & using export consulting services can really help you accelerate that growth. However using any kind of external help costs money so you need to be sure that outsourcing will be the right decision for your business, and will be efficient use of your hard earned cash. What advantages will such specialists bring to your business?
What does an export consultant do?
An import export consultant may come under a range of titles depending on where you are in the world and what is usual in that market. You might see descriptions such as:
- International Trade consultant (specialises in the nuts & bolts of getting your goods into market and getting you paid)
- International Management consultant (focuses more on strategy)
- International Business or Commerce Consultant (a more general sales based specialisation)
- or I’m sure that there are several others, potentially using “global” instead of “international” – I’ve often used “sales and marketing” too as it pretty much sums it up in a simple way
Whatever the title used, the reason that anyone uses export consulting services is to increase their chances of success with internationalisation projects and make the transition to foreign markets as seamless as possible.
So let’s look at the advantages of working with an external consultant for your internationalisation projects.
Having an external expert partner to support you with the strategy stage of an internationalisation project can really help you understand the market dynamics as well as helping to avoid gaps in your logic. This planning part of the expansion process is often ignored by companies who are looking to export, but it’s a cornerstone of success. Not only will a consultant provide an extra pair of eyes (& more objective view) on your strategy, they should assist you to plan and execute whilst avoiding any common pitfalls the market offers.
What support is available for your expansion plans?
Many countries offer programmes to encourage SME’s to expand into new markets. These might include subsidies for certain kinds of costs (eg. participation in international trade fairs), support programmes (eg. assistance for start ups to navigate foreign markets or for small companies to start sales via certain channels such as online) or even incentives or tax breaks to help you to finance your expansion.
To me, this is one of the main advantages of working with a consultant who is based in your home market, as they have a detailed knowledge of such programmes and can advise you of how to apply.
Oh, how easy life might be if only it weren’t for those pesky regulations that other countries have to throw a spanner in the works of your planned expansion! Not only that, but barely have you mastered their complexity and they go and change them again!
The right import export consultant should be able to advise you on what the latest regulations are for your chosen market. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be a specialist on the details, but they should be aware of the main criteria you have to meet and generally what is required in terms of for example product registration for import. This will help to ensure that you are working according tot he most up to date regulations and are able to be market compliant.
Your export consulting services provider should be able to inform you about any barriers to entry for your specific products as well as explaining how they are relevant to you. A consultant will also be able to help you develop an adapted strategy to minimise any disadvantages due to this
They also should be able to tell you about which general changes are coming up. So for example in the last couple of weeks I was in webinars and meetings to discuss topics as diverse as: Brexit VAT implications for EU exporters, customs reductions for EU goods under the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement, Food Labelling in Indonesia or new food registration laws for China. I can’t advise you in detail on each of these points, but I know what is critical (what to look out for) and where to go for additional information.
It can be invaluable to outsource the pre-market entry research to an external partner who knows where to look for that detailed information. When you move into a new market there are so many moving pieces that you need to consider in advance, that it’s usually more efficient to delegate this to someone who already has a good knowledge of the market and can research your particular situation.
Some of the topics can include:
- competitive environment including pricing
- import regulations for your specific products
- labelling and packaging regulations
- registration requirements
- will the product sell?
- what is the customer journey? How do customers buy?
- how will the manufacturer get paid?
- what are the most appropriate sales channels?
I could go on with an almost endless list of questions that need to be researched before you enter a market. Most import criteria is that when you move into that new market, you are compliant with the regulations and able to sell.
Strong Networks in the Target Market
Working with export consulting services has the advantage of being able to leverage their networks wherever you are looking to expand into. These networks fall into two main categories: potential sales partners and potential specialist service providers. Such service providers could include:
- localisation agencies specific to your industry
- tax advisors
- legal specialists who understand both your home laws as well as the legal environment in the target market
- IP specialists
- registration agents if required
- customs brokers
- marketing agencies
Of course, you can do the footwork and build all of these relationships yourself, however it saves both time and money if you have a consultant who can make a recommendation to you, who they know is reliable.
Additionally, a consultant may be able to provide access to a market in times of crisis that you wouldn’t be able to gain yourself.
When you enter into any new market there are always cultural norms which differ to your home situation. That happens even within countries if you compare London with Manchester, New York with San Francisco or St. Petersburg with Vladivostok. Of course, those differences are exponentially larger when you move into overseas markets – then it really pays to have someone supporting your team who can act as a bridge with:
- industry knowledge
- cultural knowledge
- understanding of how both sides like to run negotiations and meetings
- appreciation of how both cultures go about organising visits
- ways of working
- attitudes to time
- relationship building
A partner who can take care of all of this for you, will ease the strains of the initial meetings as well as increasing your chances of success.
For many companies this is a key reason to work with consultants. Topics such as export financing, managing currency exchange and of course “how will I get paid?” are powerful motivators that can cause sleepless nights if you don’t have clear answers to those questions. Deciding on the right payment method up front can be a building block for success. It’s much easier to be perhaps more generous later on, but for initial stages of any business relationship you want to have secured methods of payment such as an L/C.
Another one that might be causing you headaches if you lack export experience is the question of whether or not your should invest in credit insurance. This is something that will change from case to case and is extremely individual, but your consultant should be able to guide you through the decision making process.
Using Export Consulting Services will help your Company to grow overseas
Engaging the support of an import export consultant is likely to prove a more cost effective and efficient way of accelerating your overseas sales growth, as you can avoid many common mistakes. Having this kind of support will help you to manage the complexities of overseas commerce, whilst reducing your exposure to risk. The right consultant will also point out additional business opportunities that they may see for your products.
Think about the time and resources that you would have to invest if you want to do all aspects of the market entry job yourself. If you look at the full costs of what an international business development manager would mean for your company over the probably 6 months that it would take them to prepare such a project then it’s probably cheaper and faster to engage profession export consulting services to extend your reach.
Finally my recommendation would be also to think about the personal chemistry between yourself and the consultant chosen. Don’t engage someone who will annoy the hell out of you each time you see a mail from them as that’s no basis for cooperation, however well qualified they may be. Your inputs are also essential on an ongoing basis for the project to be a success, but think about a consultant as an accelerator.
If you’d like to learn more about working with me for support on your internationalisation projects or personal export knowledge, you can book a 30 minute international clarity call here.
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