To export or not to export – that is the question

It comes as no surprise to me that a Parliamentary Enquiry is being launched into why small-to-medium Australian businesses aren’t taking up export opportunities in a free trade environment.

If you think about it from a small-business owner perspective, it’s a bit like asking them to take considerable time out of their business to jump through endless bureaucratic hoops, invest incredible amounts of money, deal with complete strangers, and all for no real guarantee of return.

Or is this more a perception than reality?

Recently I’ve been chatting with a few businesses about their exporting experiences.  One relatively new niche food business is looking to export into the United States but is finding the FDA regulations “a bit daunting” as one would expect of a food product.  They’re persevering though because they are already exporting to three other countries and paperwork is no stranger. They understand that it is a game of patience and also know that their Australian product has an advantage over what is currently on offer in the US.

Another business that went through the AusTrade process over a decade ago enjoyed great success to begin with.  Unfortunately, their export market dried up with the Global Financial Crisis; something to keep in mind when you service the recreation industry is the fact that luxuries are always the first to go.

In the digital age preparing for export should be so much easier.  And there is also the less considered concept of exporting services online. At a recent conference in Washington D.C., a senior executive of IBM highlighted that there will be a huge demand for cyber security which technically can be provided from anywhere in the world.

So what should Australian businesses be aware of before taking the leap into exporting?

Common mistakes are to underestimate the level of competition being faced in countries with large populations like the U.S.A. You need to have a compelling argument to get your product or service on the market. Perception can also be fickle with subtle but crucial language differences even in other English-speaking countries. AusTrade is a great starting base for giving advice and connecting you with the right consultants to get a return on your investment.

In summary:

  1. Don’t even contemplate export until you have a tried and proven product or service in Australia.
  2. Strong branding is crucial.
  3. Clearly identify your target audience and know exactly how to reach them.
  4. You need to engage people on the ground to make introductions and pave the way for your success.
  5. Rule of thumb is usually a minimum of $500,000 investment just to get the legal and marketing side sorted.
  6. Patience: allow a minimum of two to three years. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Many Australian businesses have the dream of one day breaking into an overseas market, and with the right product or service it is achievable.  You just need to be prepared to do the hard yards and to be patient.

Kerry Anderson – – businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria who is passionate about rural and regional small business