Across the EU, small and medium-sized businesses are critical motors of growth and job creation, and therefore Europe’s significance as a trade partner should not be underestimated. Currently, almost one in five small businesses are exporting to Europe.
The potential of an EU Brexit does not affect UK SMEs’ ongoing dependence on Europe as a trade destination, which according to recent figures is on a continuing growth trajectory.
For many SMEs, the thought of expanding overseas can seem quite a daunting one, but the opportunities it opens up make it worth the risk. Here are some basic steps you need to go through to set yourself up as a European exporter.
Finding a supplier
Visiting the country you’re hoping to trade in and doing some research into the local market can be a fast and reliable way of getting a handle on potential suppliers in the area. Talking to local distributors directly can give you an understanding of the language and nuances of their market and customer base, and help you to work out how your product or service can fit into this.
Build a relationship
Scheduling in at least one face-to-face interview with your new supplier is always a good idea. The aim is to establish a strong personal relationship with them, built on trust. If you’re going to be entering a risky venture with this person, you need to have a mutual respect and understanding before you even start.
If you don’t speak the language, you should at least make the effort to learn the basic pleasantries, but do employ a translator if you need to. You don’t want any important information to get lost in translation.
A good place to start when looking for customers in European countries are initiatives such as the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) which offer strong, low-cost routes to doing business in Europe. Once the services your company offers is registered on their database, they can be passed out through over 600 partner organisations such as Chambers of Commerce in 50 countries.
UK Trade and Investment are another good way to get a feel for overseas markets and the help that is available, from market research to trade missions.
When looking for customers overseas, you also need to consider how global your brand is. Does your website have a multilingual option? Is all printed literature translated into the native language? You may also need to make changes to certain marketing angles to make sure you reflect the culture of your target market.
Lastly, don’t forget to swot up on the local legislation! VAT rules and Sales List reporting requirements, among other things, differ from country to country, and time spent researching all the ins and outs of native law is essential when considering trading in Europe, and will mean you don’t trip over legislative hitches further down the line.
For further information on trading in the EU, take a look at this free HMRC e-learning course.