You may think, given the increasing likelihood of a no deal Brexit, that most UK based companies would be focussing on the UK market at the minute. However, a recent survey shows 37% of businesses expect to increase exporting in the coming year. Indeed, for local companies with Republic of Ireland or other European Union-based competitors, the only certainty is that if they are not looking to increase their sales to export markets, their competitors will be.
There is no reason to consider developing an export market as an impossible task. Perhaps when NI businesses used to think of supplying to distant markets their thoughts rarely strayed beyond the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. However, the last thirty years have seen many local companies, across several sectors, successfully grow their businesses overseas showing what is possible. The worldwide dominance of County Tyrone in the materials handling sector being a prime example.
There are, of course, challenges to exporting and variables to consider for each potential export market, including competition, manufacturing, distribution, employment and tax law. However, advice and assistance is available to companies to help them consider their options before committing any capital.
Invest Northern Ireland remains a key enabler of export growth for NI companies and is a useful first point of contact. As well as potential financial assistance, they can help companies to develop an export strategy, provide export skills workshops, research competitors and markets and bring companies on market visits.
Companies should also look to their advisers for assistance. Many accounting and legal firms are part of international networks that can not only advise on the financial, regulatory and tax regimes of chosen markets, but may also be able to introduce potential trading partners through their client base.
Now is definitely the time to explore new markets. To do this successfully remember these five tips. Firstly, assess the market and competition to identify genuine opportunities and talk to Invest Northern Ireland and your advisers as part of this process.
Secondly, consider both the practical and administrative implications that will be involved, this may include whether to set up a company in the jurisdiction, second current employees or hire locally, etc.
Thirdly, create a clear vision and set achievable goals for overseas growth that the company can get behind.
Fourthly, proactively network to identify the right companies and people to work with. This will help you to better understand local business practices and integrate into new markets.
Lastly, be ready to be flexible. A reactive and agile approach is even more important when you enter new markets and will ensure you are truly meeting the needs of your customers.