The idea for the club
From my experience as a member of various Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Export, I realised that there was no strong focus or support for small businesses in the export startup sector. This showed that there was a gap in the market for a business community built around the needs of exporters.
My experience as an Adviser on the Enterprise Nation (EN) Marketplace also gave positive evidence that this would be a viable business model. EN’s focus on business campaigns to support small business has been an advantage for me to get a broad view of the SME ecosystem, while the member forums gave me insight into customer profiles.
The business as a social enterprise
I have worked as a business mentor with the Bright Ideas Trust, which gave me experience on the structure and business model of a social enterprise. The major point was the need to start with a razor sharp focus on our ‘ideal client’, with specific sector and geographic location in mind.
I have an extensive business background, trained as a chemical engineer, and worked in manufacturing, banking and the IT sectors amongst others. My previous position was Business Underwriter at UK Export Finance.
I wanted a business where I no longer had profit and turnover as vanity metrics and I have also matured to the stage where I would like to contribute to a more inclusive society. The goal is to help with business regeneration in East London by working in cooperation with established businesses and the government. The advantage of a social enterprise is the focus on stakeholders not shareholders
East London is a deprived area with several issues, however to quote Martin Luther King Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” The major advantage in setting up was that I have had support from big businesses with good initiatives such as NatWest Enterprise, South London Export Club, and Enterprise Nation.
Gateway to Export
East London has a tradition of international trade, with Docklands a major export hub before its destruction in the Second World War. However, the Legacy of the 2012 Olympics in East London provided a regeneration boost to business. The prime benefit has been the establishment of the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, London’s next business district, creating a centre for global trade.
The area has a culturally diverse community of different nationalities (and languages) on the doorstep. It’s good to rely on community networks, and you have the benefit to conduct face-to-face meetings for your export startup and understand the cultural nuances of communication.
It’s easy to get around and travel in East London; Newham is well connected with easy routes to London City Airport and Stansted Airport from Stratford Station. London’s new container super-terminal, the London Gateway, is also close by and 40 minutes drive from Dagenham.
How to expand overseas
You have “accidental exporters”, but the obvious route is to start with field research to explore markets. Start with the question ‘how will I get paid?’ since you may have the market but your price could be uncompetitive. A major advantage is ‘brand Britain’ and many markets will pay premium price if you enter through the right channels.
Essentially exports work well when you have systems, procedures and processes in place, so it is beneficial to learn how to outsource these functions. One benefit of export clubs is that you don’t necessarily have to take the expert view, the forum works well when you can exchange stories with veterans and newbies alike.
Take small steps via ecommerce. The first step should be building customer relationships and engagement. This requires you understand the channel that suits best, which will depend on your market sector. The core advantage here is that they give businesses the ability to outsource operational and logistics elements. Equally they have a well-established digital platform with eCommerce platforms that are robust and scalable.
A Business Community
The business is not all about exports. I have worked as a business growth coach for several years in East London, and we will assist business to explore and grow their home market also. The East London Export Cub will develop a business community to encourage StartUps and provide an enabling environment.
Our Export Club Group on LinkedIn was formed to enable small and medium business to “exchange stories regards their business journey” and your business need not have any export experience. We would also like to meet offline and have plans in place to roll-out “round-tables” where we can focus on your specific bottle-necks and obstacles to business growth.
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