Fulfilling your export potential

Supporting first time exporters, and indeed more experienced exporters, to identify new markets, reach new customers and further develop partnerships with existing customers is a core part of Invest Northern Ireland’s role and is central to strengthening the local economy.

We have helped companies accelerate their growth by providing the knowledge and capabilities they need to be successful overseas within their own business sectors. By providing this information we are helping local firms to exploit new market opportunities and enhance their export potential.

What to consider?

Whether a company is a first time exporter or is considering selling products or services abroad for the first time, there are some things that it should be aware of:

  • What works in Europe, for example, may not work in China. It pays to be very aware of cultural differences, language and etiquette and to adapt your marketing approach to suit the potential client.
  • Building relationships in some countries such as Saudi Arabia is key to making a good business deal as this can build trust which is important to potential buyers there.
  • It is important to do the necessary due diligence when appointing agents or distributors; and when appointed it is vital to support and manage these partners for the success of the contract.
  • It is also important to note that in some countries it may take several years to make an initial sale and therefore firms should be prepared to invest the time to develop new markets.

Many businesses often perceive barriers to exporting which prevent them from having the confidence to explore what can be lucrative new markets. Sometimes companies feel that a lack of market research is too much of a hurdle to be able to overcome and they don’t know where to begin. The recent publication of the Export Start Guide (PDF), a collaboration between ourselves, Enterprise Ireland and Chartered Accountants Ireland, provides a wealth of information to help companies assess their readiness for exporting and information on how to devise an export strategy. This start guide can help companies overcome these concerns and start tapping into the commercial possibilities that lie outside Northern Ireland. You can find further information about this on investni.com.

Opportunities and advantages

There are many new rapidly growing markets which offer significant opportunities to Northern Ireland businesses across a range of industry sectors, from food & drink to construction and manufacturing. Manufacturing exports to China have increased year on year and have the potential to exceed £100m this year and over the last three years, manufacturing exports to New Zealand have trebled, driven largely by machinery and transport equipment, showing there are significant export opportunities for ambitious Northern Ireland companies. The US continues to be an important market with opportunities also opening up in Mexico and Canada.

We have several competitive advantages in Northern Ireland including a burgeoning food sector. Almost £1.3bn worth of food and drink from local companies was exported last year from baby food to the Middle East to specialist teas to Japan and Rwanda; from oats to Hong Kong to meat into Michelin star restaurants in Paris. Food and drinks processing is Northern Ireland’s most important manufacturing sector, and one that has continued to grow during the recession. In Northern Ireland we have the highest possible traceability standards, which is a fundamental requirement in this sector when it comes to boosting export prospects.

Export growth has been slower than hoped over recent years. There are many macro factors that can impact exports and companies need to consider and understand these and the potential impact on their business growth plan – currency fluctuations and country instability for example, can impact on both volume of exports and value.

From Apr-Jun 2015, however, Northern Ireland exports increased by 3.6 percent from the previous quarter and increased by 3 percent from the same quarter last year. Significantly, Northern Ireland was the only UK region to experience an increase in exports over the last rolling 12 month period, so we remain hopeful for the future.

Many NI companies see exports as crucial to increasing sales and profits and have embarked on ambitious export drives to develop products for distribution in overseas markets. One such company is Kitchenmaster who, through Invest NI support, now employs five staff in Dubai and recently surpassed a notable milestone achieving £1million worth of sales to the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, Mallusk based BI Electrical Services signed an agreement in China that is estimated to be worth around £20 million. This is an extremely significant and immensely encouraging development for one of Northern Ireland’s leading electrical engineering businesses in the world’s most dynamic marketplace, one we have been encouraging and assisting local companies to explore over many years.

I would encourage established and new companies alike to look to new markets and become exporters in order to increase their sales. The Republic of Ireland and Great Britain are often good starting points for your export strategy but many NI companies are successfully exporting to Australia, Japan and Scandinavia so for the right product distance should not be a barrier. Vitally, greater sales overseas will lead to increased employment opportunities in Northern Ireland.

To find out more about Export Week go to www.investni.com/exploreexport.