I recently had the opportunity to meet the Minister for Exports, Mike Freer, and we had a lengthy discussion about exporting as well as about his recent visit to Africa. Mike is an eloquent, passionate advocate of UK exports and the massive export opportunities that exist for UK businesses, and is intent on supporting them to ever greater success. He has been spending considerable time in recent months visiting overseas markets and banging the drum for UK businesses.
We discussed the Export Champion movement and how, using our extensive combined experience, Champions are encouraging more businesses to start or increase exporting. If we can help more businesses understand the extent of opportunity that exporting gives them and that it is far easier than most realise, then our efforts will pay dividends. However, it is not easy to reach and engage with the many thousands of businesses that could benefit from exporting and more needs to be done.
The DIT is responsible for helping UK businesses sell overseas, through its International Trade Advisors in the UK, and network of advisors working in markets throughout the world, identifying opportunities, smoothing engagements and facilitating business promotions. This amazing resource and help is available to all who want to board the exporting train. The DIT are taking the trade opportunities with Africa very seriously. Africa has its own Trade Commissioner, and the position is at Ambassadorial level. In addition, Liz Collier is the North West lead Advisor on Africa. There are also several North West based business groups focussed on Africa.
There is no shortage of help available.
It is not just large businesses that can take advantage of the opportunities to export around the world. Even micro businesses are able to, if they chose to try. I personally know of several businesses that started exporting simply by listing products online, whether Ebay, Amazon, their own website or others. This can build up to a substantial turnover, without them ever having to leave home.
Does that sound too simple? It isn’t. It is a real opportunity open to very many small businesses. Minister Mike Freer recently made official visits to South Africa and Nigeria and described them as “bustling economies”. Antonio Guteres, Secretary General of the United Nations, described Africa as being “on the rise”.
These comments reflect the rapidly growing economies and opportunities that exist in Africa, often overlooked by UK exporters. Africa and its 1.4Bn people and £2.1Tn GDP encompass a diverse range of countries and markets. Africa possesses huge natural resources: agriculture, diamonds, minerals, oil and much more.
Agriculture is an important export for South Africa (including, from personal experience, some fabulous wines) but equally for Morocco in the north. Natural resources are prevalent throughout the continent and high value manufacturing is growing rapidly. Exports of these and many more goods have created economies averaging 5% annual growth over the last decade, and increasingly sophisticated and wealthy markets across Africa. It is not just civil engineering, pharmaceuticals and financial services – the natural preserve of large companies – that are providing opportunities for UK exporters. The UK has a well justified reputation for quality products and services, and these can find ready acceptance throughout Africa.
The English language is a natural advantage for UK businesses as it is widely spoken across Africa, especially in business and premium markets. There is widespread demand for UK products and services and there are a very wide range of opportunities. With 54 countries in Africa, it may seem daunting to decide where to start; my advice is to look for similar markets to those you sell in elsewhere. Individual markets may not be that large, but they can still be highly valuable. When you are searching for a distributor, look for a firm that has experience with importing from the UK. They can then help you with complying with local regulations and will understand the processes needed to import into the country. You could be fortunate and find a great partner who you can work with across multiple markets.
The big question is then: how do you find the right distributor?
You could ask for recommendations, look up on Google, ask the Department for International Trade staff, or set out to meet potential distributors at a specialist exhibition. There are very many exhibitions across the world and in the UK to choose from. These are a great way to meet potential customers and distributors. The Minister told me of exactly such an exhibition that he attended in Lagos, Nigeria, he commented “There is so much to be excited about in South Africa, Nigeria and the wider continent, and that comes with vast opportunities to invest, export and trade with. This was an insightful visit and I’m looking forward to returning in the future.”
Tony Goodman MBE is a successful exporter and has been doing so through a variety of different businesses. He is currently Marketing Advisor at Forest and Co who specialise in offering guidance on branding, exporting and sales: www.forestandco.com