Insurance · 6 July 2018

How Flow navigated cultural differences and language barriers for exporting success

The Flow team

More UK micro businesses are exporting than ever before. However, finding customers in new overseas markets remains the greatest barrier to exporting.

To help entrepreneurs reach new markets, Business Advice wants to hear the success stories of Britain’s small exporters and leverage that expertise.

We caught up with the business development manager at a digital agency to find out what his company has learned from its exporting experiences.

Name: Chris Ogle

Business: Flow Digital

Sector: Digital marketing services

Number of employees: 8

Export markets: Benalux, France, Israel, US, Malaysia

Describe your business model

Manage elements of clients digital marketing requirements for a daily rate. Specifically relating to exporting, we have had success in two main areas. First is marketing a British product in an overseas territory via a local distributor.

So if you are looking to promote a British product in Malaysia, British marketing strategy is valued to bring a different viewpoint than a local agency. We have also had great success for creating copy, for non-UK websites, to be read by a British audience for SEO purposes.

Why do you export and what’s the impact on your business?

If we are being completely honest, exporting found us rather than us looking to expand our reach overseas.

The main thing that has really helped grow our work in overseas territories is that international companies who want to catch a tone of voice for a specific territory, working directly with people within that territory is very appealing. Although not part of our initial strategy, it now makes up a significant percentage of our overall work. In retrospect, we wish we had considered it a lot sooner.

What is the most difficult part of selling internationally?

The sales process is significantly different to one of our typical process with a locally based client. Being English, as a rule we are typically understated and much is implied between the lines which we just assume to be understood by the other party.

Our client in Benelux, for example, is much more direct and to the point than we would expect a UK based prospect to be. There’s no issue with this, it’s just worth bearing in mind cultural difference of the nation you will be dealing with.

As much as we would like to meet every prospect in person, in reality based on the size of the job, and likelihood of conversion, that is not always feasible.

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Once on board, occasional language issues do creep up from time to time. As Flow is English speaking only, our immediate point of contact on client side is typically fluent in English, however as more members from the client side get involved, language can become a barrier especially with technical queries.

Time differences and working days also have an impact. We have a client in Israel who we do around 4 days of work for per month, but an Israeli work week runs from Sunday to Thursday, at an equivalent 7am to 3pm UK time. This means we only have around 22 out of the normal 37.5 hours a week in which both client and agency are available.

A little flexibility on both sides means this isn’t much of an issue. Finally, we have had some minor issues with international invoices. Which currency to use, how to calculate tax etc, however nothing a good international trade website couldn’t help with.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for other business owners?

Don’t be scared to look further afield for work. Clients in overseas locations are looking for UK specific knowledge insight and products and the world is looking for.

Also, with digital strategy making the world a very small place, it is now incredibly easy to target specific territories with your specific set of skills or product for relatively little marketing budget. 

Where do you turn to for help?

A strong business support network helps, especially with similar businesses (even competitors) who run a similar model. Agencies in our locality are a pretty friendly bunch and usually willing to help, so long as we’re not chasing the same clients.

Brexit: Good or bad for your business?

Directly it hasn’t impacted us, but UK based clients who export to the EU have has some budget restraints during the uncertainty, so I would have to say a slight negative. Like with all change, where one door closes, another opens so those that win will be the first to adapt to change.

Where do you see your business in the next year?

Delivering our core service to more regional services, whilst continuing to attract international work where our local knowledge is vital for tone of voice etc. 

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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