By now some of you must be thinking “Exports this, exports that… Susan, this is all well and good for people who actually have a business ! SMEs, companies… But all this doesn’t apply to me!”
Or maybe you’re thinking “I’m a small local company, I don’t really see how or what I could export… It doesn’t apply to me, either…”
Are you really, really sure, I mean a 100% SURE that you don’t have anything to export ? That you could NEVER export? Really? If you’re a hairdresser, accountant or corner shop owner in a small Irish town, you might have a point. But otherwise? Let’s put on our business leader hat for a moment and let’s think creatively.
It’s not really a question of whether you want to…
Actually, it’s not really a question of if, but when. Everybody can feel the effects of a recession. Domestic demand might not be enough and in certain sectors it might even be shrinking. In the last recession Irish businesses had their backs against the wall: we were finding ourselves almost forced to export. And waiting for the perfect job might not have been enough anymore: unemployment reached 14.5% in August 2011. So it also seems like we should look into creating businesses to adapt to a new economic context.
A lot of people are afraid to take the leap, be it in exports or business creation. And it is scary. But when you actually do it, you will realize that business has more to do with hard work and common sense, than with fairy dust and “the million dollar idea”.
It also requires a change in mindset: it used to be that business wasn’t really discussed in Irish culture. In recent years there were jobs aplenty and the idea was that you would be a good student and go on to be a good employee.
But this has changed radically and if you want to have a job these days, a very real possibility is to create it for yourself.
Consider the ratio of companies opening vs. companies closing: nowadays for every company that closes, four new enterprises begin life! You might not have seen that all those years ago. People didn’t have to set up their own business, they were doing perfectly fine without considering this option. You could get employed, get perfectly good wages and benefits, and wait until 5 o’clock. The Irish became a bit lazy: after all, why take on all the risks of business creation when you can get a monthly paycheque instead?
Entrepreneurship isn’t really discussed in Ireland, be it at school or in the family. There are some micro-initiatives to encourage enterprise in schools, as well as a discussion of entrepreneurship in the Leaving Certificate Business Organisation course. But I wouldn’t say that these initiatives are widespread and far-reaching: you can still leave school without having been exposed to the idea of creating your own business.
Outside of that, there are only postgraduate programmes and master’s degrees, as if it wasn’t the business of undergraduates to think of creating their own company or becoming self-employed. It is still down to the personal interest of the individual student or teacher, and it’s not often the first thing to come up in a discussion with a guidance counsellor!
And until recently, policies for Irish indigenous industries didn’t exist. Now, it’s the complete opposite: we have networking groups, incubation centres, government agencies (Irish and European)… And we have yet to reap the rewards of all this!
If it hadn’t been for the recession, I might never have explored how I could export. Domestic demand might have been enough to keep me very busy. But a constricted market nudged me to diversify my customer base and look to foreign shores for more business.
And now half the turnover of my company is exports-led! This was a massive boost to my business.
There are many things that can scare or confuse you when you think of exporting: what are the costs, where do you start… These are very real concerns, but there is just one thing you need to do: ask for help – and you will receive it.
First things first: you already have a business, and you want to export
By now I hope that I have convinced you that exports are a very positive side of the Irish economy, and a desirable addition to your business.
If you’re not exporting already, you should start. Now. There is a huge amount of support for businesses, now more than ever.
What you should do first is see if there is a gap in the international market for your product. Get in touch with government agencies, take their courses, look out for opportunities and ascertain where your product would fit in an external market.
The real issue is one of costs and competitiveness: get help to do market research and feasibility studies.
What if you’re already exporting?
I’m sure you could do even better, and up your game. Do more of what works: more market research, more feasibility studies, find more countries you can export to… Redouble your efforts, just like you would do to expand in the domestic market.
And remember that you can also get help in the form of grants, from the same government agencies I described in a previous post.
But what if you’re not an entrepreneur yet?
It’s easier than you think to start a business and get your feet wet, without risking a lot of money, without having to woo venture capital or take a big loan from the banks. In fact, with the Internet, it is now extremely easy to export your services – without even leaving your house.
Can you type fast? You could be a typist or a transcriptionist. Are you a translater? A web designer? A programmer? Can you offer admin support? You could register a profile on Elance or oDesk and bid for jobs.
All these are simple ways to start your own business and start exporting all at the same time… You will still need to work hard and take good business decisions (bidding profitably on Elance, for example, requires some getting used to), but you could make a supplementary income, or diversify your client base, by exporting your services.
Et voilà! You are bringing foreign money into the country and you’re an Irish indigenous company. And you haven’t even left your sitting room yet!
Exporting on your doorstep: tourism
This leads me to another source of exports we sometimes forget: tourism is foreign people buying Irish products and services. Even if it happens in Ireland, it still counts as exports!
So come on, B&B owners, souvenir shop keepers and restaurant managers! Think of your business as exports and make it easy for foreign customers to buy from you. Is all your marketing material, from your brochures to your website, available in several languages? Are you sure the translations are reliable and give a professional image of your business? Do you know where and how to reach foreign customers? Do you know what makes them tick?
Come to think of it, Failte Ireland is another government agency that can help you with exports…
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