The Pets of the Internet to Small Exporters

Exporters seeking information or business contacts in their overseas markets may find it a difficult and time-consuming challenge.

The Internet is an invaluable tool for both finding businesses potentially interested in alliances, distribution or purchasing products – and in communicating with them to build and maintain necessary relationships.

An observer of the growth of the Internet in its earlier days prophetically noted: "The Internet, like television and the print media, is yet another resource developed in the emerging new media to promote products and / or services. The similarities end there. The Internet also adds the ability to communicate quickly, and with less cost. It also allows firms with a need for information to find it quickly and easily. The Internet can be used in a variety of ways to enhance your business internationally. "

Exporting, even that accomplished with the assistance of the Internet, still follows the same basic rules. Before the Internet was a greatly important factor in export marketing, several areas were identified as critical to success in exporting.

One such factor was businesses' ignorance of foreign laws and customs, either of which can negatively affect potential success in any foreign market.

Other factors identified in various studies of successful export marketers included developing and strengthening competitive advantage within target markets.

Maintaining an efficient distribution network and marketing techniques were a top priority after a firm is in the export markets.

Government assistance in locating and developing relationships with companies in foreign markets was generally seen to be essential but goldmine of information now available on the Internet means that we are all less-dependent than we were.

In the early part of my career, physical travel to potential markets was seen to be absolutely critical in developing the export markets, but at a huge cost. The first innovation to help us was cheaper flights but, with the advent of the Internet, even that travel is not so critical an issue now, allowing many more small businesses to enter export markets than when extensive (and expensive) international travel was required.

The object of much of that formerly-required foreign travel often was the seeking-out of both governmental and private-sector sources that could supply us with information on regulations, market research expertise and introduction to firms likely to be interested in acting as distributors or retailers of the firm's goods or services. Sources such as local chambers of commerce, trade associations and governmental data on specific industry and commodity sectors have been available for years, but generally only through individual subscriptions or libraries.

Several years ago, there was great hope for the possibilities of direct Internet commerce. With only relatively few exceptions, success in direct sales over the Internet has been elusive for most not involved with business-to-business transactions. However, the Internet does provide a wealth of information applicable to more standard methods of achieving "international" status and should be considered an integral part of establishing and maintaining relationships with foreign distributors and retailers.

What is critical to export success, I suggest, is the ability to create websites to market your products, give credibility to your business and make it easier for customers and potential customers to locate you and communicate with you. Your website can be as grand or as simple as you wish; it will largely be determined by your budget but remember that you can, with a little time and thought, create your own at little or no cost. If you want a quality site then it will cost and you need to see the work of several consultants before you settle with one to create your site.

The advent of new technological advances, such as the video sharing sites such as YouTube, gives you access to a new generation of web users to help develop your brand but you will need to get the basics of your Internet marketing strategy right first before you venture into this arena.

What is available to you immediately, and at no cost, is the ability to create blog sites. A blog was originally a web-based diary (web log). I have been experimenting with my occasional marketing and public relations blog with articles for small business at http://www.headlinepromotions.blogspot.com and have attracted a large number of visitors. It costs nothing to create, except your time, but it offers you an immediate free showcase and public relations tool. As long as you include the promotion of your blog site address in your marketing strategy then this will be an invaluable tool for you.

I hope these brief thoughts are useful but I would welcome your feedback and suggestions for any future articles on the European perspective of marketing for export.

John Hicks, is Managing Director of Headline Promotions, Press & PR based in Basingstoke in the south of England. With many years experience in marketing, business promotion and Public Relations (including time spent working with the UK Manufacturing Advisory Service for the South East and Engineering Employers' Federation South Region), John specializes in the manufacturing sector and leisure industry. He is also a contributor to a number of UK and US journals.

John is always happy to give free informal advice by e-mail; contact him by e-mail at john@headlinepromotions.co.uk – please mention this Newsletter. You can read his occasional marketing and public relations blog with articles for small business at http://www.headlinepromotions.blogspot.com/

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