After meeting Victoria Boldison of Bolst Global earlier this year, I decided to sit down with her to learn all about export strategies. We talked about where companies should start when looking to sell their goods or services overseas, what challenges UK companies commonly face when entering new markets, and top tips for developing that all-important plan of action. Here is a transcript of our full conversation, plus the final interview we filmed together.
[EN] Thank you for joining us today Victoria, and for sharing your insights with us on all things international.
[VB] Absolute pleasure.
[EN] I think the first thing to really understand from you is what kind of challenges do you think UK companies face when embarking on export campaigns?
[VB] I think for a lot of companies actually, many people go into export and international business a lot by accident. It’s a lot of reactive opportunism. And that’s normal because they are focusing on building their business in the UK and their home market, and these international opportunities come around. People coming to them and saying “hey, we’ve seen your product or service on the internet or through a trade show, etc.” And then they are presented with an opportunity to sell into a new market without necessarily looking at it from a strategic point of view and putting some of those steps in place. So they start doing the exporting and it works really well, they have a good couple of opportunities and then think “OK maybe we need to think about this a bit more”, but they don’t have a strategy or a plan. A lot of companies do not have an export strategy or a plan in place. As I said, it just comes around from reactive opportunism, so it’s a challenge when they start to flip it from just taking on the opportunities as they come, to start thinking “if we do this properly and we go out proactively and start looking at where do we go” – and I think that is always a big question in terms of which markets to focus on, because obviously, you’ve got the world, and generally companies have limited time and resources so making those right decisions around which markets to target and be proactive, is a challenge. And also, who to work with in the markets. I think the two big things, challenge wise, are always: where to go and who to work with; finding the right partners for them and the right fit in those markets, is difficult.
[EN] So, with that in mind, what’s the first thing that people should look at when putting a strategy for export together?
[VB] I think first of all, it’s saying “we need a strategy and a plan”. And actually taking the time to sit down with themselves, or bringing an expert in, and actually getting an external perspective and some expertise, and saying “doing this in a systematic, proactive, strategic way – what does that look like?” You have to work through what you’re taking out to market, what the offer is, and how that might differ from what you currently offer at home. Things around the product or the service offering that might need tweaking because certain aspects of it you can’t necessarily deliver overseas. The pricing strategy you might need to differentiate, you have extra things to factor in there. The route to market, again. You know, what’s the offer? And then, where are we going? How are we doing this? How are we resourcing it? How are we funding it, as well? So there are a number of things to think about.
[EN] You work a lot with companies in food and beverage, so have you got any examples of where things have gone really well in export, or when things might not have gone quite according to plan?
[VB] Yeah [Laughs], both sides. I think it depends where we, as a business, get involved with the clients and brands that we work with. Often it tends to be that we get involved when they have already started exporting and there has to be a little bit of a ‘mopping up’ and coming in and having a look and seeing what they’re doing and helping guide them in some of the ways in which the way they have set up business, maybe hasn’t been great. And again it’s often lack of experience.
[EN] They’ve fallen into it, so they’re muddling along as best they can.
[VB] Exactly, but maybe some of the contracts that they’ve set up with partners hasn’t been great, they haven’t necessarily selected the right partners, it’s been someone that’s come along and they’ve taken them on board. But actually, there may be a good market opportunity, but actually the partner’s not right for example. So it can be working through that, and being able to advise on that. I think that definitely where we have seen the most success is where we have been involved and engaged at an earlier stage of the journey, so if they’re looking to start out and be strategic and proactive, and from the beginning setting out the stall with a plan, a strategy and then implementation of that off the back of it, with our help and guidance that has been where we have seen the best results, without a doubt, because there’s that clarity over it and confidence, which I think is a big part of it as well.
[EN] It’s the same for us in translation. You’ve got to be there at the beginning. It’s a lot easier then moving forward. Well, on that note, other than translation, localisation, what other things should brands be thinking about when they’re going into a new market?
[VB] I think there are a few things. How much you want to adapt your offering, or can adapt your offering, and what flexibility you are willing to give with that. For some companies they can’t, it’s a case of “we take what we have and sell it overseas”, but obviously some of those markets won’t respond exactly well to what your specific offer is that works very well here, but doesn’t there. But it might just need some tweaks. But again, as a business, are you able? Are you ready? Are you willing to do that? Having that openness, in a mindset piece, is really important I think from, particularly the top management level who have to be championing export, because it does tend to be something people will, you know, it’s a great growth opportunity, but it’s often seen as quite a challenging, complex one, and if you’ve not got the buy-in at the right level it can be difficult, so making sure the right people are in the mix and championing it is important as well to make sure it is successful.
[EN] Because change scares people doesn’t it?
[VB] It does, and it’s fear of the unknown because exporting for a lot of people is that. We’ve never sold into that market, we don’t know what we have to do, we don’t know these people that either we’re approaching or they’re approaching us, how do we know it’s right? Yeah, it can be difficult for companies, but once they get set up and get going, they build some confidence, they get some wins, it can be a really, really great growth strategy for their business, helps to diversify and de-risk, you know, some of the UK core market which might be going well for them right now, but we never know what’s going to happen, and obviously the current economic climate, politically, at the moment as well. There are a number of factors to think about so trying to diversify is a good idea.
In return for this interview, Victoria also quizzed me on the importance of language and culture when it comes to export. Keep your eyes peeled for that!
About Bolst Global
Bolst Global is a dynamic international consultancy and outsourced export management provider offering a host of market entry support services to health food and drink brands hungry for international growth and success.
If you would like to speak to Victoria and the Bolst Global team about your export plans you can reach them via their website: www.bolstglobal.com