Business development · 1 August 2018

How can the Department of International Trade help UK SMEs go global?

What can the DIT do to help businesses get overseas?
What can the DIT do to help businesses get overseas?

At the recent Amazon Academy Newcastle, Sue Beverley, an ecommerce advisor at the Department of International Trade (DIT) explained the ways in which her organisation is on hand to help businesses looking to bump up their exports.

The Amazon Academy is an event series aimed at small businesses looking to grow online, whether this means increasing sales domestically or overseas.

Beverley explained how one of the main things the DIT has to offer is its large support network.

“There’s me on the ground here in the North-East, covering the North-East region, but overseas we’ve got staff in all of the embassies.”

According to Beverley, the DIT offers practical support – not just in identifying key markets, but also in deciding how to target them.

The barriers to export

Beverley asked the room what they consider to be the barriers to expanding, the things holding small businesses from exporting overseas.

Unsurprisingly, language barriers, taxes, customs and duty fees and challenges finding distributors were all put forward.

“I’ve had big multi-million pound companies come to me and say, this guy in Romania is asking if he can be our distributor in Romania, and we’re quite keen but it’s just an email that’s landed in my inbox,” said Beverley.

“We can check them out and we can check the company out in Romania for you. If it’s not too much work to do, it’s a free service.”

She explained that there are lots of different fear factors involved, from language and culture or the sheer hassle of expansion – some people are exporting but in a reactive way and with no strategy. The DIT is on hand to help overcome these barriers.

Structured support

The support is the same across each region of the UK, but there are different teams for each region.

This means that, wherever you are in the UK you can have one to one support with the advisors. Perhaps your business has just decided to start selling on Amazon, or wants to develop a brand to sell overseas – you can sit down with someone and talk about how it might work and which markets are the best to target.

“We help you get into the country and work with you to identify customer segments, and how you can target those people,” Beverley explained.

The DIT also has a programme of overseas trade missions, which tend to be sector led. In January for example, Beverley took a group of 15 homeware and lifestyle businesses to a trade show in Paris called Maison et Objet.

They were able to meet with organisations that could help them bring their products over, and met with a French agent to discuss what it’s like working in the French market and what the differences might be with the UK market.

“Last year, that was for the princely sum of £99, and you got three nights’ accommodation, a flight, the support of the embassy, and the trip to the trade show.”

The DIT also offers a range of webinars that business owners can sign up to, plus a trade show access programme which provides funding for businesses to travel to trade shows in their sector. The full list of trade shows available can be found here.

Getting ecommerce in line

It’s not just the fancy trips overseas the DIT can help you with either – it also has advisors on hand for more prosaic, day-to-day business advice.

The DIT also offers advice on how to expand relying more on ecommerce – utilising emarketplaces, for example, and even selling on your own website.

“If you have your own website, then I’ll look at it and help you optimise it to get more visitors from overseas,” said Beverley.

“If you’re sitting on a .co.uk, for example, I might come along and say you really need to get on to the .com because .uk is very firmly based. Google knows you’re in the UK, and therefore you need a .com to be able to expand overseas.”

It’s not impossible with a .co.uk, she explained, but you’re making life unnecessarily hard for yourself.

Overall, there’s a real wealth of advice and support available with the DIT. There may be hurdles to exporting, but you don’t necessarily have to go it alone.

The next Amazon Academy takes place on 11 September at Celtic Manor, Wales. To learn more and register for free click here.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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