Given that the world has become one big market place in recent years, many small firms are keen to set out their stall within that environment. Export markets were, at one time, largely the territory of large companies who had considerable resources and expertise to deploy in those markets. However, thanks to the rapid advance of technology, that grip has weakened substantially in recent years. Even the smallest of businesses (not excluding the one-man/one-woman micro-firm) can find overseas markets to grow their businesses and substantially increase their profits. Thanks to the internet and sites like Amazon, eBay, Play.com and the UK’s Alibaba, export no longer requires your own fleet of container ships and representatives in 180 countries; much of the export process can be managed by a few clicks of a mouse!
The Attraction of Export
The beauty of the export market is that it can open up your products to millions of additional potential customers; there are approximately 76 million unique visitors per month to Amazon alone, and over one in five global internet users visit the site each month. While sites like Alibaba have fewer customers, they can also reach markets in over 240 countries. With access to resources of this kind it’s no wonder that more and more small and medium businesses are launching web sites and products in overseas markets.
Seasonal Variations – and How to Avoid Them
One of the key advantages of operating in markets beyond your own shores is the ability to manage seasonal fluctuations in demand for your products or services. While not all products are vulnerable to such changes many are. As summer passes from one hemisphere to the other, products that sell well in this season can follow the sun, flying south for the winter, while winter products can fly north in return. Most firms will experience some seasonal trends in their offerings and accessing global markets can create an all-year round market in a way which selling purely to domestic consumers cannot. Small manufacturing firms such as It Straps On, Inc in the US, which cater to the construction industry have found that export can create new markets in which the seasonal demand for products can be minimised.
Payment Issues and Trusted Sites
Amazon and other marketplaces can also be excellent for researching what attracts customers in regions you have little experience of and also in researching attitudes, habits and the seasonal demands mentioned above. Apart from anything else, trusted sites like Amazon and eBay offer consumers one valuable (possibly priceless) commodity; trust. Exporting through this type of site reduces the risk to businesses in terms of receiving payment and allows customers the reassurance of buying through a tried and trusted channel. Research has consistently shown that one of the major concerns for firms exploring overseas trade options is the payment issue. Trading through established, trusted sites can, for small firms, offer considerable reassurance on this level.
Doing Your Homework
Research is a crucial part of developing an overseas market and products that will sell in other territories. There is high demand for US goods and services and the export market for these is strong. Different regions have different cultures and customs – selling craft beer to Saudi Arabia may not be plan A on the export front – though markets can be found for US or UK products of this variety in the Far East. Where to sell is also crucial; in some markets apart from Amazon, Play.com and eBay, well established and trusted sites exist; Fnac.com is a good example of a French based online market place, which currently is responsible for the removal of one in three Euros from the wallets of eager online consumers in France. Knowing the market, the options for selling and the regional opportunities helps to create a successful export strategy.
Surprising Side Benefits
Apart from the ability to withstand downturns in your local market, export can have some surprising side-benefits. Many small firms (and medium or large) have discovered that trading in new regions creates a broader understanding of their markets, new insights into their own products and can even been the inspiration for new marketing campaigns and different ways of trading. All of these often can create new opportunities at home as well as in foreign markets, helping to grow your firm back on your own territory! Although not the primary aim of exporting, the opportunities to learn new business models and develop new products can all offer valuable insights and potentially lucrative new streams of income. Export, given the global nature of business today, is likely to become the preferred model of firms of every size.
Freelance business and economy writer and blogger Sam Mulder believes that even the smallest firms should look to the global marketplace for growth.