What is Open to Export?
Lesley Batchelor (LB): “Open to Export is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) that is supported by the UK Government, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Export and Yell as founders. Since October 2014, we’ve also been sponsored by our Principal Partner, HSBC.”
Has the organisation changed since being set up?
LB: “We started off thinking we were developing a peer-to-peer platform, but we soon found that businesses wanted advice from experts, not just other businesses. More recently we’ve refocused our website onto the ‘export journey’. Our online guides begins with ‘Getting started’ and move through ‘Selecting a market’ and ‘Reaching customers’ to ‘Pricing and getting paid’ and ‘Delivery and documentation’. The aim is to get businesses to understand the key considerations along the journey so they’re fully prepared. Our popular webinars explore topics in greater detail, and our website features a useful list of key export organisations.”
How do you help UK SMEs?
LB: “Via our forum, webinars, guides and contacts, a high volume of UK SMEs are connecting with each other and export organisations, learning from experts and taking part in conversations about going global. Our website content comes from our online community, and anyone with value to offer exporters can contribute. UK SMEs can gain knowledge and contacts that can help them to become exporters.”
What can you tell us about the Open to Export forum?
LB: “Our website forum enables users to ask any export-related question specific to their business and stage on their export journey. Our experts provide answers and assistance where possible. Anyone can register to ask questions or provide answers.”
You’ve added an Export Action Plan to your online tools…
LB: “We have - it’s free and easy to use. Basically it’s an online planning tool so small businesses can create their own roadmap to export. Many businesses just don’t know where to start. They can input their own information and generate an Export Action Plan in PDF format. You can download an example Export Action Plan from our website. Businesses need to plot their own course and take responsibility for their export decisions. They need to think, ‘I can do this, I’m an experienced business person’.”
What steps are involved when creating the Export Action Plan?
LB: “You complete tasks through our ‘Five steps to export’ with support from our prompts, resources and video guides. Best of all, you can complete it at your own pace, saving your plan when you want so you can return to it later. It covers such questions as: ‘Am I ready to export?’, ‘Which product should I export?’, ‘Where should I export to?’, ‘How will I cover the additional costs?’ and ‘How will I make a profit?’. This provides you with a clarity of thought that you can then take to your bank or trade adviser.”
How big a challenge do UK export organisations face?
LB: “There’s a lack of export knowledge among large numbers of our SMEs, but we need to build confidence as well as competence. We need to get smaller firms to realise that there are opportunities overseas for them. Telling them to all go and target country X or Y isn’t the answer. They need to go out there and find out for themselves. They need to gain knowledge, create relationships, do their own research and find their own markets. By all means use the help and advice available, but ultimately you must decide the best options for your business.”
In your experience, what types of UK business succeed in overseas markets?
LB: “You have to remain open to new ideas and be prepared to change your business and products if necessary. Just because something sells well in the UK, it doesn’t mean it will automatically sell well elsewhere. I think your research has to be thorough too - having a deep understanding of overseas markets provides a better chance of success. ”