I wanted to share my experiences, and am keen to hear your views, on the subject of ‘the most effective ways of working with government support as a small or medium sized company’, in this case looking at UKTI and international trade. For the last 10 years I have been working with companies who have used UKTI’s services in the film, TV, games, digital sector and those who have really got the most out of the relationship leading to contracts worth millions have all had the same approach.
Information; access; profile and financial assistance – and pretty much in that order too. As a list it all looks pretty obvious, so lets take a moment to unpack those headings.
Starting at the beginning with ‘information’, the UKTI website and OpentoExport.com, the new responsive web presence, these are among the best sources of information on international trade I know, with many businesses in other countries using them as reference too.
The main site www.ukti.gov.uk has excellent overview information, covering most industry sectors in a wide range of markets. You can sign up for ‘alerts’ of business opportunities in your industry sector or market of interest. For example, last week, there were two opportunities from China where our colleagues in Beijing posted leads for online games developers and publishers and for Children’s pre-school content, so it’s definitely worth checking out for direct leads. However, there is also other useful stuff including guides on ‘Doing Business in…’ and regular updates from the foreign office on ‘Overseas Business Risks’. From here ‘Open to Export’ comes into it’s own, as you can ask those you have done it before about the highs and lows of your particular area or find the key professional to meet your needs.
At a certain moment, you will want to go from ‘Information’ to ‘Access’ and having armed yourself with the desk research, move on to actually meeting a potential trading partner. Here, again, there are a range of options, from support at a trade fair or market, to bespoke introductions to buyers or potential partners in market, to trade missions.
Fortunately, help is at hand! Across the UK there are teams of International Trade Advisors who can help you to plan your approach to international trade. Your nearest contact can be found here.
Generally, however, market support is often through a trade association, for example PACT who has support from UKTI to manage the UK Indies Stand at MIPCOM and MIP TV. These supported events are also posted on the website on a regular basis or are accessible through the relevant trade bodies.
The bespoke program is ‘OMIS’, the Overseas Market Introduction Service, and it draws on the contacts and expertise of the global trade teams to give you insight, contacts details or a direct service actually setting up a programme of meetings for you. This service is charged to you at a subsidized rates but the cost depends on the amount of work required. It’s well worth talking it through with your UKTI International Trade Advisor, who will put you onto the best contact based in the territory you are interested in. Get a quote and then decide if it’s the right path for you.
There are also the international trade missions to specific markets. These are organised by UKTI or in partnership with another organisation where a group of companies go out to a market together. Usually there is a briefing in the UK beforehand to help with the preparations, and a briefing on the first day of business in the territory to meet the UKTI staff based there. This is followed by a programme of visits, meetings and receptions, depending on the individual programme. Although the preparation, organisation and often receptions are subsidised, you must be prepared to cover your own travel costs and sometimes group publicity or additional activity costs. Again, information on what’s happening when is posted on the website or should be available through your trade associations or key networks.
Your success is going to depend on a number of variables, but going into a market where a door has been opened and you have the right kind of introduction is always a significant help. With UKTI behind you, you are getting a particular kind of profile, this is especially important in new and emerging markets where your brand may not be well known. This is where the trade missions come into their own, where on the basis of an introduction at a reception in the consulate you automatically gain status.
This is last because, although important, it should never be the sole reason for your going ahead with your international strategy! As I’ve mentioned before, a number of services are subsided or provided free of charge. There are also some grants available through schemes such as Passport to Export or Market Visit Support. The best way to work through the schemes, as they do vary from time to time, is to contact your International Trade Advisor.
- Open for Export initiative to aid SMEs (xlntelecom.co.uk)