How and why I’m opening up trade links with the UK and you should, too

By Susan November 7, 2012 09:02

How and why I’m opening up trade links with the UK and you should, too



I’m a bit of an evangelist when it comes to exports. After all, who wouldn’t want to take on additional clients?


Or is it the fear holding you back?


  • The fear that it will be complicated and difficult, because of the language or the paperwork or the culture?
  • The fear that the recession has shrunk all the markets?
  • The fear that you’ll spend all that money and effort trying to export and it won’t work?
  • The fear that comes from not knowing where to start?


Well, how about exporting to the UK? None of those fears really apply.



“Foreign” can be very close to home


I said this in a previous post, and I’ll say it again: the UK and Ireland have a lot in common. And I’m convinced that doing business with the UK – or with any country for that matter – is a way to build a lasting sustainable relationship. After all, “people buy from people” and “know, like and trust” are not only good business principles, but speak of more general rules of harmonious human behaviour.


Then there is the obvious fact that we speak the same language. The very few differences between Hiberno-English and UK English will provide a good conversation starter and a bit of “craic” (there, I’ll bet very few of them will know what it means!).


Another obvious fact: we are very close geographically. You could leave Ireland early in the morning with the first flight and be back for dinner – some people have longer commutes than it takes to fly from Dublin to Manchester. This geographical closeness is enhanced by the presence of the Irish diaspora. There are Irish people in Australia alright, but it’s that little bit further away.


Calling on the Irish diaspora is a good way to ease into exporting. And the Irish International Business Network offers you the support structure and the business focus you need to do that. This Friday I’m excited to be speaking at the IIBN Global Conference in London. And I’m also excited to have found such an efficient and supportive network in my efforts to make my business even more international.



Our biggest trading partner is no longer in recession!


It’s also a very good time to be doing business with the UK – it’s always been an important trade partner for Ireland. But you might be thinking “Hang on a minute – don’t I remember you saying that Irish exports to the UK were down because the economy is sluggish?”


Well, not now anymore. Boosted by the Olympics, British economic indicators are doing better. Recovery is still a bit fragile, but things are very much looking up. According to Bloomberg, Britain’s economy resumed growth in the third quarter, beating even economists’ forecasts, thanks to Olympic ticket sales and a surge in services.


According to the Office for National Statistics, gross domestic product had its fastest growth in five years, rising 1 per cent from the three months through June. Services, amounting to about three quarters of GDP, surged 1.3 per cent in the third quarter from the previous three months, again, the most in five years. Olympic ticket sales are estimated to have added 0.2 percentage points to GDP. Production rose 1.1 per cent, the most in more than two years, while manufacturing increased 1 per cent.



Irish businesses are already doing business in the UK and loving it


The numbers speak for themselves and are music to any exporter’s ears. Between January and August 2012, Ireland exported €9.4 billion worth of goods to the UK, a 14% increase on the same period last year. In particular, during that time frame, we exported €4 billion of chemicals and related products (up 25% on the same period last year), €1.9 billion of food and live animals (up 1.5%) and €1 billion of machinery and transport equipment (up 15%).


In terms of services, we exported €15 billion to, and imported €10 billion from the UK in 2011, which represented 31% of all of our European Union sales and an increase of 2.8% on the year before. We sold €1.8 billion of financial services, €4 billion of computer services, €509 million of operational leasing and 2.7 billion in total of other business services.


Now we are accustomed to Irish exports performing well, but breaking down the numbers further will unveil many Irish success stories in Great Britain. There is of course the heartening success of John Sisk Son winning construction contracts for the London Olympics. The company also totalled €300 million in contracts in the UK in 2010. Irish businesses found that the Olympics opened the (already wide open) door to trade in the UK some more – some expect the wind-down period to last as much as six or seven years.


Even the end of the boom has had the welcome if unexpected effect of inviting Irish companies to take a much closer look at their UK ties. Building on already existing contacts, they managed to expand even while the home market was shrinking, most notably in construction.


The Olympics may be over, but commercial ties between Ireland and the UK can be strengthened further. The recent success of Wexford-based Tekpak testifies to the opportunities that ambitious companies can find there. The company won an award for innovation at the Processing & Packaging Machinery Association (PPMA) Awards in Birmingham.


The PPMA being the UK’s trade association for suppliers of processing and packaging machinery to the UK market, such an award brings more than a warm feeling: it enables its recipient to showcase their product and expertise in front of a receptive and eager target audience. This is a direct springboard to commercial opportunities.



But what if it doesn’t work?


When preparing to export, you may think “I’ll give it a try and we’ll see if it works”. This was exactly what I thought when I first went to Malta.


Remember that you have the ability, as well as the responsibility, to make it work. You would be amazed at the number of tiny, simple things you can do to reach success: follow up, persist, always take your last action to be the beginning of the next. Always, always have a plan to build on everything you do.


If you don’t follow up, all your business efforts become dead ends. Sure, you went to a networking meeting, to a trade mission, to a conference. But opportunities don’t fall from the sky: work that meeting, that mission, that conference. What now? What is next? What can you do?


Follow up with the people you met at the networking event. Write an article about your experience of that trade mission and offer to publish it on your local chamber’s website. Reach out to one of the speakers at the conference and say how much you appreciated their talk, and why. Think of how you can connect somebody you just met with somebody you already know. Join LinkedIn Groups of your industry in that sector.


The funny thing is that business people do this so naturally when attending networking meetings and generating leads in their home market – why would it be any different when you go outside of that?


It all seems so obvious, and yet you would be amazed that so few people actually do these things. “But I’m busy!” is certainly not an excuse: do you mean you are too busy to make your business a success?! Looking for and creating opportunities IS your business.


Always be doing something, and always be adding value. It sounds so simple (although not always easy), yet it’s the golden rule of business success. Don’t underestimate the power of one!


Now if you’re really, really stumped, or uncertain (or afraid – there’s no shame!), ask for help. Remember, people will be glad to help you, simply because it feels good to be of help.


And if you’re looking to export, you’ll be spoiled for choice: there are many, many agencies that can help you, but it’s a long list for another post! (by the way, that post is coming up next week!)


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By Susan November 7, 2012 09:02