A round-up of the key insights from Think Global 2016

On Tuesday, 11th October experts and entrepreneurs from around the UK assembled in London at World First’s Think Global summit. The inaugural event explored the growing opportunities of global trade and offered practical solutions to break down the barriers facing businesses aspiring to export internationally. Here are the top six pieces of advice the experts shared:

1. Mark Garnier MP: There has never been a better, or easier time to export

Mark Garnier MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the newly formed UK Department of International Trade opened the summit with an optimistic message. ‘We’re not just open for business,’ he said, ‘we mean business.’ And, with a whole-of-government approach working hard to champion UK PLC and remove barriers to exporting, he invited businesses to seize the opportunity and join a national movement of exporting. Now, more than ever before, financial support exists for SMEs looking to expand, added Gordon Welsh, discussing the many new initiatives and products available from UK Export Finance.

2. Ed Vaizey MP: Embrace digital to reach new customers faster and cheaper

The rise of ecommerce is levelling the field for businesses of all sizes as you no longer need a store front to access international markets. The UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to digital with one in five businesses already selling online, praised Ed Vaizey, MP for Wantage and formerly Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. ‘Marketplaces are changing the game for vendors to sell in new territories,’ added Jesse Wragg of Intercultural Elements, going on to describe online marketplaces such as Amazon, EBay, Cdiscount and Newegg as growth engines. An effective marketing campaign can also help to improve your digital visibility and help you to reach new customers online, concluded Gori Yahaya of Google Digital Garage.

3. Anthony Fletcher: Test the waters before you commit

Founders of successful SMEs shared their personal experiences of expanding abroad and emphasised the importance of conducting market research and testing potential opportunities on a small scale before rolling out operations abroad in full force. Anthony Fletcher, CEO of graze.com explained how he conducted a quarter million-pound minimum viable product test in America before moving into the market. But, there are much less expensive ways to test your product or service abroad. Charlotte Chung of the Federation of Small Businesses recommended working with a local agent on the ground who knows the culture and language.

4. Jonathan Quin: Always react with agility

Agility is the key to success, the experienced exporters agreed. As you gather information and discover what works and ultimately what doesn’t, you need to be prepared to react quickly. ‘It’s all about economies of scale,’ explained Cecile Reinaud, Founder of renowned maternity line Seraphine, ‘You have to adapt, but don’t completely reinvent yourself in every market or you will fail.’ In addition, you have to be willing to take calculated risks, advised World First’s own CEO, Jonathan Quin. You’ll remember your successes long after your challenges are forgotten.

5. Julien Callede: Address local and global tensions

Julien Callede, Co-Founder of online furniture business Made.com shared his international expansion story with the delegates, explaining how cultural differences in the way people prefer to pay in Italy and Germany posed challenges for his company. His advice–be mindful of the intricacies in each new market you go into and hire a local team to help you along the way. Embrace brand Britain, which is perceived well around the world wherever you can and balance the core elements of your business with the demands of new markets.

6. Jeremy Cook: Adopt an informed currency strategy

When seeking to expand your business abroad, putting a currency strategy in place is critical to supporting and protecting your growth plans. This is especially pertinent at the moment, explained Jeremy Cook, World First’s Chief Economist, with GBP at close to 24 year lows. As soon as your business crosses borders, it takes on risks and with a number of volatility drivers on the horizon from Brexit to US and European elections, international businesses must be prepared.  

World First and Cebr’s new report reveals that less than a fifth of UK SMEs currently export compared with over 40% of large businesses, leaving a £141.3bn export shortfall in the UK economy. But now, says Sir David Clementi, Chairman of World First and former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, ‘The opportunities are out there and you could be too.’

So, whether you’re selling overseas for the first time or are a seasoned ecommerce merchant, find out how World First can help make your export dreams reality.