Euro Stars: UK small businesses and Europe

Eurostar - International Expansion - British Gas Business

Cross-channel train operators Eurostar will expand their existing fleet later this year with the addition of the Siemens e320.  Named for its top speed of 320kmph (around 200mph), this new train signifies another step forward in connecting the UK with the rest of the continent.

So what does this mean for small businesses with a keen eye on expansion?  We take a look at a few of the features of Eurostar’s latest new train, and offer some tips for enterprises looking at international expansion.

Fast travel with energy and business smarts

The new e320 looks like it’s been designed with business travel in mind.  There’s a free Wi-Fi network throughout, and every standard seat now comes with its own power socket. While business-class travellers get USB connections too.

Siemens even included energy-saving solutions into the design itself: roof-mounted equipment, such as air-conditioning units and pantographs (the mechanism that collects electricity from overhead lines) is now integrated, reducing how much energy they need.

That’s great.  But why would I need to deal with Europe?

In short: exporting is good for business.  A 2014 survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) found that SMEs that export are 11% more likely to survive. While a UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) study found that SMEs that export are 35% more productive.  These studies suggest that when local markets become saturated or competition becomes too fierce, limiting your trading to UK borders could limit your business growth.

But does that mean I need to travel there?

If you want to give yourself the best chances, it probably does.  Again, the UKTI study showed that 25% of firms had trouble ‘making the right contacts’ when they started to export. Understanding markets and forging real networks is incredibly difficult to do properly without being present and active in the area you’re aiming for.

You’ll need to scope out the demand for your products or services in the markets you’re targeting, understand your potential customers, and make useful contacts through international trade shows and fairs.

What do I need to know before I get started?

First, you need to be sure that you’re doing well at home.  If you’re not happily growing in your own, local market exporting internationally isn’t going to be a miracle cure.

Second, know your competition – both locally and abroad.  If your UK competitors are successfully exporting abroad, that’s a good sign that there’s a healthy demand elsewhere.  And if you know what kind of European competition you’ll be facing in your target area, you’ll know what you need to offer to gain the advantage.

Third – and perhaps most importantly – make it as easy as possible for a foreign market to find you attractive.  Learn the basic pleasantries and etiquette, and get an expert to translate your website and your promotional materials.  It might be the case that many Europeans can read and speak English, but by operating  on local terms, you show that you understand and appreciate the people you’re trying to sell to.

Taking your small business abroad can be an intimidating prospect. But it can be an exciting adventure that promises opportunities for serious growth, too.

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