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Q & A

International trade: opportunity knocking for UK small businesses

The time is now for British Business to be bold and consider exporting. HSBC’s Head of Global Trade and Receivables Finance, Mark Emmerson, describes a market full of opportunity for small businesses.

What are the barriers to encouraging new exporting businesses? How can they be overcome?

There is no doubt that the UK is full of outstanding entrepreneurs, but among potential exporters a fear of the unknown and a lack of awareness of the opportunities exists. Smaller businesses may not have the connections and contacts to realise their export potential. They may not be aware of the support and funding that is available to them from many different sources including government, non-government bodies, banks such as HSBC, and professional trade organisations.

There is an element of fragmentation in the way support is sign-posted and a small business does not have time to piece together this jigsaw. Access to information needs to be made as simple as possible, so everyone can take advantage of the opportunities.

How is government and bank support helping potential exporters find customers?

At HSBC we offer our experience, gained over 150 years of helping business trade and access to our global network to all aspirant exporters. We have expert trade teams in more than 50 countries around the world giving us access to over 90% of all world trade flows with knowledge and connections we can share with our UK clients. This year we also supported the International Festival for Business in Liverpool and the Government’s Exporting is GREAT initiative, introducing new exporters to already successful businesses so that they can learn from their experiences.

In everyday terms, as a bank, we can provide funding and risk mitigation through our structured trade and receivables finance solutions. Providing the certainty of payment to give SME’s the confidence to enter the international market.

We are continuing our work with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and are a leading supporter of UK Export Finance (UKEF). Perhaps the most exciting development in the near future is the launch of a new service which will connect UK customers to exciting opportunities with our overseas customers, enabling, for example, buyers in China or the US to share their requirements with UK producers who are seeking to identify export opportunities.

What is the attraction of British goods and services to an international market?

It is clear that British companies have an excellent reputation for top quality production. The UK has world-leading position in many service sectors, including British education which is respected across the globe. We should think of Great Britain not just as the home of many iconic brands but also as an iconic brand itself. We should be celebrating ‘Brand GB’ and building upon the current upbeat mood amongst business communities to drive our export success.

What advice would you give smaller businesses considering exporting?

Be brave. There are tremendous opportunities out there and many examples of where UK companies have succeeded. Smaller businesses should be courageous and seize their own opportunities. I would also encourage businesses to do their research, on the internet, through government and the many other export promotion bodies. It is about identifying the right market where their goods or services are required and targeting it.

Finally, if you can, visit your target market. Speak to potential customers and understand the way the market works. Speak to those who have been successful there; successful exporters are often willing to share their knowledge with aspirant exporters. And if you can’t physically visit, make use of technology such as video conferencing to make contacts.

How can the ‘I’m too small’ attitude be overcome?

It is essential to increase the awareness of opportunities in export that exists for small business. In the coming years, three billion people will join the consumer class across the world and most will be in the emerging markets. They will in turn drive demand for infrastructure and housing, services and education, retail goods and consumer brands. British companies have an excellent reputation across all these sectors.

The challenge is to build confidence among smaller companies to find and grasp these opportunities. Together with the Government we can provide SME’s with the support, confidence and funding they require to be able to ‘think big’.

What is the role of technology in growing international trade?

The internet and video-conferencing already place customers on the other side of the world just a click away and digital platforms will play an ever-increasing part in the success of the smaller exporter. Future technology developments will be able to streamline the manual processing of import/export documentation, improve security, making it quicker and easier for businesses to connect with new suppliers and customers internationally.

In fact, I see technology bringing many more international opportunities alive for British companies, with social media and online marketing and sales at the forefront of this.

Read more:

First steps to exporting

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