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No one can deny there are plenty of womens' business networking clubs - but how many of these have an international focus?
This matters, because last year, the Federation of Small Businesses published a report which emphasised the importance of female entrepreneurship in helping to grow the economy out of recession. The report highlighted the lessons we can learn from the US where numbers of female-owned businesses are way ahead of our own. According to the same report, 150,000 start-ups would be created each year if women started businesses at the same rate as men.
We know there are currently around 620,000 majority women-owned businesses in the UK - and the good news is that the numbers of these who are exporting are increasing.
In October 2010, the Daily Telegraph reported that at the start of the millennium, only 13% of all the businesses preparing to export and taking part in trade fairs were majority owned, or run by women. But in the two years from 2008 to 2010, this figure almost tripled to 34% of the 25,000 businesses assisted by UKTI each year. So while there is reason to be optimistic, a Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) survey of the same year, estimated only 16% of women-led SME employers exported goods or services outside the UK, a lower figure than the 23% of SME employers overall. This is likely to be because there is likely to be a lower proportion of women-led businesses in the production sector than SMEs generally.
Although times have been difficult in recent years, there are many examples of West Midlands female-led businesses in both services and manufacturing succeeding internationally. Freestyle - the Midlands' biggest digital media and PR company recently opened an office in Paris, while Global Defences - a company specialising in flood defences - recently secured distribution of its range of flood products throughout Thailand.
It's clear we need to do more to encourage and inspire women-led businesses to export more. Which is why we are holding our first export event aimed at female-led businesses on 16th November as part of Export Week. A range of speakers - including Pat Freshwater of Global Defences and Delia Goldsby of Freestyle - will demonstrate how to export successfully. We'll also be highlighting the wide range of support available to help companies along their export journey, such as the new Export Insight Visits (www.embltd.co.uk/ukti) which are a cost effective way for companies new to exporting to explore new markets overseas.
For more details of this and other events taking place as part of Export Week download the free app: www.exportweek.ukti.gov.uk or log on to: www.uktiwestmidlands.eventbrite.co.uk
How to protect your business from cyber attack and understanding how the new Bribery Act works
Two of the comments I hear all too frequently when I'm talking to businesses are: "my IT systems are completely secure" and "there's no point doing business in this or that country unless you're willing to pay a bribe."
Both statements are not only wrong, but in the current business climate, potentially very dangerous.
John Cridland, CBI Director General called mid-sized businesses (MSBs*) "a forgotten army" saying that "now is the time to unlock their potential".
Up until recently, most of the public debate has been about SMEs or multi-nationals - and for good reason. The success of our large companies, like JLR and JCB in international markets is vital to the success of our economy.
While at the other end of the scale, SMEs account for around 53% of UK exports - another cornerstone of our future growth.
But what about this "forgotten army" of middle sized companies?
We all know by now the importance the Government is attaching to growing international trade to boost the UK economy. But so many companies, particularly SMEs, still hold the view that the effort, time and funds they may have to invest, wouldn't be worth the return.
Yet how wrong they would be.
The Prime Minister has issued a national challenge:
• to double exports to £1 trillion by 2020;
• to remove the trade deficit by 2020;
• to increase the number of firms exporting by 100,000 by 2020;
• to raise the number of SMEs exporting from the current level of one in
five, to the European average of one in four, by 2020.
So can we meet that challenge?
Choosing a partner in business can be rather like choosing a partner in life.
Once off the ground, a business joint venture (JV) typically last less than 5-7 years in the form they were created, much like a "marriage of convenience".
After some time, the phenomenon of "same bed different dreams" starts to creep into the "marriage" and so the JV fail.
The term joint venture is often bandied about when companies talk about looking for partnering opportunities and it's surprising how loosely the term is used. In essence, a true joint venture in business terms is really an 'equity partnership' in which both parties share equity, knowledge, markets and profits.
The key to a successful JV is in the planning. Done correctly, the benefits for both parties can be enormous since both parties share resources to achieve a common goal.
One partner may bring the technology and the other knowledge, about the local market. Some of the benefits include - shortening the learning curve, enhancing capability, reducing cost and risk, speeding-up market entry, while building up credibility and competitive advantage.
But, don't rush - poorly planned and executed JVs can be doomed.
I'm often asked by companies for advice on how to tackle a new market and among the many routes to market, Licensing is definitely worth considering.
Licensing is essentially the granting of a 'Right' by the owner of the intellectual property to another business or individual to do something that, without that permission, would infringe the owner's Intellectual Property Right.
It's particularly useful for those who recognise the value in their intellectual property (IP) be it inventions, trademarks, industrial or even architectural designs. Or creative products such as music, art or film. These can all provide income for a company by giving others permission to use its IP in return for a royalty payment.
Today's business world is fast changing and many companies that seek new markets for their products face constraints within their own organisations - such as lack of skill sets or resources to meet market opportunities, little local knowledge of these markets, shortage of capital to invest in the venture, or simply not enough time in the day!
Licensing is relatively quick to set up and can generate rapid revenue streams - all with the added attraction that it is a relatively 'hands off' solution.
There are all sorts of licensing arrangements depending on who you want to use your IP and where.
Choosing the right route to market is critical for success in any market and can easily mean the difference between success and failure. Getting it right can spell increased sales and profits, while getting it wrong can lead to headaches and frustrations and ultimately, wasted time and money.
You may decide to control your destiny and sell direct. But the most common routes to market, especially in Europe, are through commercial agents or distributors.
In using either you need to look at three key factors: the risk you are prepared to take; the control you need and the flexibility offered.
Of course, having the right product in the first place is essential. It needs to be fit for market, meet market regulations and have some kind of competitive advantage.
The next step is to choose your market and acquire a good understanding of the dynamics of that market from supply chain to final customer.
Many companies opt for a commercial agent to help sell their goods. The right agent helps a company save on overheads and gain key information through the agent's local knowledge and contacts. This route also allows the company to be in control of the sale and to pay on results.
These are all valuable benefits. But the use of agents isn't without pitfalls. Agents need to be properly managed with good communication, clear guidance and a robust, legally enforceable agreement specifying, for example, if the agent is to be the sole agent for your product. If things go wrong, a bad agreement can be costly. It's worth remembering that as the seller (commonly known as 'The Principal') you retain the 'Title of Goods' and therefore carry all the risk associated with any transactions.
To help you with drawing up a template for an agreement, have a read of 'The EU Commercial Agents (Council Directive) Regulations 1993'. It sets out the duties and obligations for both you and the agent, and provides some guidance on remuneration, terminations, compensations and restraint of trade.
An alternative to an agent is a distributor. This route can meet a need to achieve sales volume and economies of scale from productivity and financial accounting while also having the advantage of offering a local facility for stockholding and infrastructure to handle delivery and after sales service to a multitude of consumers.
However, in a distributor agreement, the 'Title of Goods' normally passes to the distributor. This can lead to a loss of your own deeper knowledge and understanding of the market, a reduction of margin income and less control in product pricing. This means you need to be more diligent in understanding pricing models and marketing and to provide good marketing and advertising support.
Whatever the route to market, clear and robust agreements are key. It's essential to take professional advice and have your agreements prepared, checked and approved by professional legal advisers.
You then need to manage those agreements by keeping close records and having regular review meetings with your agents/distributors.
Other key routes that can be considered are licensing, joint venture, incorporation, acquisition overseas or even greenfield investment overseas - but that is for another time.
At UK Trade & Investment we provide free, expert advice on how to get started and which routes to market may be best for you. If you'd like to find out more, contact my colleague Hari Rai at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was the message from both the Prime Minister and the Trade Minister Lord Green at a major Summit on exporting held in London last week.
Launching 'Exporting for Growth' in the UK, PM David Cameron, HSBC Chief Executive Brian Robertson and PWC Chair Ian Powell all spoke extremely supportively of boosting the UK's export platform. Nick Baird, UK Trade & Investment's Chief Executive launched some new initiatives including teaming up with founding Dragons' Den panellist Doug Richard and Yell to get 3,500 businesses into workshops all over the country to ensure they are able to exploit the global opportunities offered by the internet.
The PM's message was clear - we need to excel in trade if we are to grow the UK economy at a time when global economies are under huge pressures. The challenge is to get more SME's exporting and to do so, there needs to be greater engagement between the public and private sectors in supporting and developing our exporters.
Here in the West Midlands we have a proud history of international trade. Many of our companies are already doing well in international markets with innovative, cutting edge products - but we need our existing exporters to export more; and more companies to start exporting.
At the Summit there were over 400 representatives from intermediary organisations - banks, lawyers, accountants, consultants, trade associations, Chambers of Commerce, etc discussing how we can do this.
Nationally a number of promising initiatives are already underway such as:
- HSBC has introduced a Business Thinking programme including support for Trade Missions and Mentoring for SME exporters working with UK Trade & Investment.
- Barclays is working with UK Trade & Investment, utilising their customer base and expertise in Sub Saharan Africa to promote exports.
- Lloyds is launching a programme of Export Mentors working with the Manufacturing Technologies Association and UK Trade & Investment.
But this sort of cooperation should not be limited to the "big boys" in London. There is much we can do at the local level. Here in the West Midlands we will be holding our own Exporting for Growth Summit on 28th February for regional SMEs and intermediaries.
In the meantime if anybody has any thoughts or ideas on how UK Trade & Investment in the West Midlands might work more with local partners to help exporters I would be delighted to hear from them!
If you'd like more details of the announcements made at the Exporting for Growth Summit last week, have a look at the website: http://www.ukti.gov.uk/pt_pt/uktihome/media/item/217400.html
Much of the informed chatter coming out of Whitehall continues to focus on boosting international trade, on how the country can stimulate economic growth and employment opportunities through a robust approach to foreign markets. And it isn't just government that's pushing this agenda but also a host of business organisations, multipliers and stakeholders such as banks, accountants and lawyers.
Indeed, Lord Green, Minister for Trade, has made it an integral part of the UK's immediate export strategy to align and build on the relationships the multipliers have with their customer base to push the export agenda more widely. And why not, as any means that gets the message out effectively has got to be welcome - and who better than the business and service professionals, the multipliers, working alongside UK Trade & Investment?
A major barrier to export growth is confidence and knowledge. But how to find out what to do, how to do it and where to start? We know that businesses are inundated with invitations to business events. So much so, that sometimes there aren't enough hours to do the day job, let alone attend everything on offer. That's why at UK Trade & Investment we try very hard to make sure that anything we invite businesses to has a tangible outcome they can use.
One area of growth is Aid Funded Business. And there's a very good reason why SMEs should think about this area of export. Last year the United Nations alone bought and procured over US$10 billion of goods and services with an average contract size of just under than US$100,000. Dealing with major NGOs and Development Banks - such as the UN or the World Bank - can sometimes be intimidating to SMEs. But it really does help to have someone who's done it before to show you the ropes. We can help with advice; support; research and networks.
With the global total of Aid Funded Business so vast, there aren't many sectors that are not part of the picture. So is there anything in it for you? To find out, come along to a workshop called 'An Introduction to Aid Funded Business' being run by UKTI / Birmingham Chamber of Commerce at Villa Park on 29th November. For details contact: email@example.com