Choosing your export market: A guide for small businesses

Published · 3 min read

With the UK’s reputation for quality goods, innovation and being a great place to do business around the world, could your business benefit from overseas trading?

The export market is worth £508 billion to the UK economy and the Government is keen to see that grow, encouraging more businesses to sell their goods and services overseas.

You don’t have to be a big business to export, 10% of the UK’s small businesses (1-49 employees) already trade abroad and 36% of businesses export within 2 years of trading. The ideal is to choose one country, or area to begin exporting so that you can focus your efforts and really make a go of it. But how do you choose where to start?

Research, fact-finding and understanding what’s involved can help you reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls.

Here are some key things to consider when trying to choose your export market:

What’s the size of the opportunity?

What are the levels of income in your chosen country, region or area? Can people afford your goods or services? Will they pay a premium for them?

What about your industry sector? Is it one that’s booming the country you’re thinking about or one that’s yet to be developed? Could you gain a first mover advantage? How does the size of your target market compare to that of another country? Where is the greatest commercial opportunity?

Discover live export opportunities for your business area or industry online today.

What about the demographics?

It’s well worth checking out a country’s demographics to get an idea of the age, gender and spread of the population. For example, products and services aimed at babies and toddlers are likely to be more successful in a growing population.

In general, countries with a young population are likely to be a good indication of a growing economy.

Most people tend to live around major cities and capitals, so they can be a good place to focus your attention. If your business is more likely to appeal to customers across the whole of a country, or in remote areas, then you’ll need to think about how you’ll reach them and the cost per opportunity.

Who are the competition?

Where are your competitors already exporting? How are they doing? Their website, press releases and business news should give you some clues. Then you have to decide whether you want to compete with them, or choose to develop your business in another country where they haven’t established a base.

Are there competitors with a foothold in the market who are local to the country? If so, are you offering anything unique or different and how will you compete?

Are there barriers to trading with this country or market?

There may be obvious deal-breakers such as a trade embargo or sanctions, but there are other factors to consider too, from political unrest to transport and distribution systems.

Getting your goods to a central trade hub, such as a port or airport may be straightforward, but can you get them where they need to go easily?

The UKTI country by country guides for British businesses who are interested in developing their overseas trade are a good place to start your research.

How easy is it to do business there?

This is a wide ranging question that can cover all sorts of considerations from language and culture to legal systems and payments.

The World Bank ranks countries according to the ease of doing business every year. Singapore has come out top of the rankings for many years, but countries closer to the UK, including Denmark, Sweden and Norway are also in the top ten.

What are the costs?

If you’re exporting goods or services within the European Union, then you don’t have to pay duty or customs charges, but you may have to pay VAT, depending on who you’re selling to.

Outside the EU, customs duties and taxes will depend on the legislation in that country.

You may also need to apply for an export licence for certain goods including tools and electrical equipment. You can check if this applies to your business on the UK Government’s export control website. Make sure you’re well informed before you start shipping.

There’s no substitute for spending time in the country you’re trading in, making connections and marketing your business. So is it somewhere you want to travel to? How easy is it to get there? Will spending time there have an impact on your business in the UK, your family and loved ones?

Do your research and do business

Fact-finding, research, talking to other businesses and building up a network of people you can ask for advice and information before you dive in can help you narrow down your choices, but ultimately it’s up to you to choose the right export market for you and your business.

Subscribe to the Sage Advice enewsletter

Get a roundup of our best business advice in your inbox every month.

Leave a response