While Scottish exporters had a difficult year in 2008, the fast-changing global economy suggests that 2009 will be the year that many more businesses look overseas for growth.The opportunities are compelling: UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) reported a 23% increase in goods exports to the booming Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets in 2008.
In Brazil and China, it says £300bn of infrastructure projects will require construction expertise in the coming years – and the booming Chinese economy offers growing opportunities.
With the pound at a record low against the euro, UK exports are also more competitive than ever before.
There is also increased support available for newcomers to international business – for example, the doubling of grants for SMEs to exhibit overseas under UKTI’s Tradeshow Access Programme.
All of this adds up to an attractive option for growth when set against the gloomy domestic economy (51 per cent of Scottish firms surveyed for the latest Lloyds TSB Scotland survey reported a decrease in turnover at the end of 2008).
Adopting a professional and structured approach is the key to success when looking to expand overseas.
Sam Bennett, manager of the Scottish office of translation services provider The Translation People, said it was vital for businesses to create the right ‘shop window’ for foreign buyers.
She said: “Don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘they all speak English’. If you don’t adapt and translate your website and marketing materials, or go to the trouble of providing an interpreter for important meetings, your business won’t be taken seriously as an international player.
“A professional approach is the only way to succeed – especially when so many more UK businesses are now looking to expand overseas.”
Businesses looking for overseas growth should first identify potential markets for their product or service, undertaking detailed research for each country or territory they are considering.
Sam Bennett said: “As well as identifying potential customers, it is important to think about what local support may be needed (for example, agents or distributors). It is also vital to investigate any legal issues such as duties/tariffs and local regulations.
“Once the research is complete, a target of three countries for the initial push is realistic.”
Before making any initial approaches, businesses should also focus on understanding the culture and language of their target markets.
Sam Bennett said: “Making an effort to provide your marketing literature, letters and emails in the local language will pay huge dividends.
“It demonstrates professionalism and courtesy to your new customers and will mark you out as a serious contender for their business.
“Your website is also critical – it is your primary bridgehead to any new market.
“It is essential to adapt it to suit your target markets, to have it professionally translated into the local language and to have it hosted locally, to improve your in-country search engine rankings.”
When face-to-face meetings are needed, using a professional interpreter will make the meeting easier for both parties.
“Even though many overseas businesspeople have good English, an hour’s discussion in their non-native tongue can be a strain,” said Sam Bennett.
“Using a professional interpreter can smooth the way – and, crucially, it will also ensure that everyone leaves the meeting with a crystal clear understanding of what has been agreed.”
When translating contracts and other important documents, businesses should be wary of using free software and machine translation packages.
Sam Bennett said: “While translation software can help you get the gist of information in another language, professional support from a human translator is essential for all important business documentation.
“It is essential to have all legal documents translated by a native speaker who understands your particular field of business.”
The Translation People offers a free guide to sourcing translation, produced in association with trade body The Institute of Translation & Interpreting.