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Small business tips for trading in Europe

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To many small businesses, the thought of expanding overseas can seem quite daunting. But it’s actually proving successful, opening up new opportunities for many businesses.

One in five small businesses are currently trading abroad, with nearly 90% of them exporting to Europe.

We spoke to some small businesses who’ve tackled the European market to get their top tips on doing business in Europe.

Sourcing a supplier

Jeremy Corner, Blue Eyed Sun: “We’ve found that working with local distributors is best for us in Europe, rather than dealing direct, as they understand the language and nuances of their market. It’s good to ask them lots of questions to understand their customers and requirements and where necessary adapt your offering to boost sales.”

Build a relationship with your new supplier

Alison Trozzi, Just So Italian: “It always helps to sit down with a potential supplier and talk face-to-face. The aim is to establish a good personal relationship with a supplier, built on trust. If it gets to the stage where we’re buying a lot, we’ll go over and visit the supplier again to try to negotiate a better deal.”

Lilach Bullock, Sociable: “When doing business in another European country, it’s important to do a little research beforehand. One of the most important things to remember is that every country is different from the next, and so you need different tactics for each one. These small things can really impress people and give you a much better chance of doing business successfully anywhere in Europe.”

Where to find your customers

Kate Baucherel, Galia Digital: “For a direct route to potential customers, get involved in initiatives such as the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). Once your skills are registered on the database, they can be passed out through over 600 partner organisations such as Chambers of Commerce in 50 countries. This is a good passive, low-cost route to doing business in Europe.”

“Attend UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) events to get a feel for overseas markets and the help that is available, from market research to trade missions.”‘

“If you don’t speak the local language at least learn the basic pleasantries – your potential customers will appreciate it and it will demonstrate some level of customer care from your side. No doubt you’ll be expecting them to speak a little English, so reciprocate.”

“However do employ a translator if you need to. Don’t try and fumble your way around with Del Boy language – unless you really are trying to sell mange tout.”

Make your brand global

Gurminder Marwaha, iBiker: “If you’re taking over printed literature, have it translated so that customers can read them in their native language. They’ll appreciate the time you’ve taken to make the effort.”

Kate Baucherel, Galia Digital: “Let your website speak for you. It’s very simple to set up a multilingual website but it’s vital to invest in a professional translation of the site content, and to make sure that you also make changes which reflect the culture of your target market.”

Don’t forget about legislation

Jeremy Corner, Blue Eyed Sun: “Make sure that you to learn the VAT rules and EC Sales List reporting requirements when trading with Europe.”

Want to know more?

Read our advice on handling VAT abroad, and there’s more information on the HMRC website.

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