On 6 November 2018, more than 300 delegates attended Scotland’s largest International Trade event, meeting with in-country experts, specialist advisers and industry leaders at ScotExport.
Robin MacGeachy from Peak Scientific, Laura Birrell from Sticky Heelz and Jamie McGowan from Essence of Harris were just some of the export-experienced entrepreneurs who took to the stage to kick off the day’s programme of events. As part of a panel discussion, they offered valuable insights and advice, for both businesses starting out on an exporting journey, and for those looking to expand their current exporting activities.
Some key themes emerged within the first hour and were repeated throughout the day: research, relationships and focus. The experts advised the audience to get to know their markets inside out, using research to make informed decisions; to develop strong contacts and build a relationship with partners and distributors; and to retain focus throughout the journey, taking advantage of only the most lucrative opportunities.
No matter what sector your business operates in, there are parallels in the best approach to take, and the advice can apply to whatever goods or services you are providing.
Businesses of all sizes can capitalise on opportunities in overseas markets, and speakers across all sessions recommended that exporters and potential exporters take advantage of the wealth of resources and support services available from Scottish Development International, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
“We’re a nation of people that want to help each other, but we just need to be brave,” said Jamie McGowan from Essence of Harris.
Targeted sessions on how to enter new markets in the Middle East, Italy, Poland and the Nordics were hosted throughout the day, with in-country experts offering guidance and advice. SDI panellists encouraged businesses to be aware of the local nuances in ways of working. For example, the Scandinavians’ lack of small talk could be interpreted as rudeness, when it is simply that they want to keep focused on the task in hand.
For more on exporting to Nordic markets in particular, HIE is hosting seminars in Inverness and Shetland in December. For information and tickets, visit Eventbrite.
After a quick stop for lunch and an opportunity for networking and discussion with peers and colleagues, the afternoon kicked off with an interview with Dougal Sharp, founder and master brewer at Innis & Gunn.
Dougal’s advice echoed the morning’s comments on relationships and research, and he also emphasised the importance of cultural awareness when exporting; what works in Scotland may not be perceived the same way overseas, and processes may need to change. Dougal shared that in Canada for example, stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario are the only retail outlets licensed to sell alcohol - a fact which has, of course, dictated the brand’s distribution tactics in the region.
Brexit, its potential impact and how businesses can prepare, were also talking points throughout the day, with Ivan McKee, MSP, minister for trade, investment and innovation, emphasising that to help mitigate the impact, everything is being done to help companies export.
The afternoon concluded with a seminar on getting prepared for Brexit, featuring an expert panel with immigration and tax specialists, representatives from HMRC, and the director general for the Institute of Export and International Trade.
The takeaways from the session reiterated the advice HIE has already been sharing - businesses need to have an action plan in place and although much is still unknown, now is the time to start preparing. Top recommendations include looking at each business function, and exploring documentation, accreditations and classifications which can help with smooth and efficient international trade.
Exporting into new markets allows businesses to grow, increase sales and diversify their customer base, and it’s worth remembering that HIE can provide a range of support, information and advice for overseas trade, for businesses at any stage of exporting.