In February, Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) hosted the first of four Scale-Up Forum workshops, aimed at creating an environment where leaders of growing businesses can network, discuss and share experiences with their peers and take away valuable information and learning back to their organisations. The panel discussion was based around export and the strategies to overcome the various challenges this presents to scale-up businesses. After the discussion the panel chair, Vice President for Research at the University of Manchester Colette Fagan, concluded that the advice from the panellists was “know your market, know your company, build your connections”.
Know your market
The panellists agreed that it is essential for businesses to build a strong base in their home market before attempting to export their goods or services to other markets, as Chair of International Business at the AMBS Timothy Devinney explained “you cannot expand internationally from a position of weakness”. He noted that it is easier to address the needs of local customers than global customers, therefore if a company does not have stability and dominance within their local market, they are highly unlikely to successfully transfer into an international market.
Liam Manton, co-founder of Didsbury Gin, agreed with this, sharing that they were advised by one of their investors not to export their products last year, despite the possible business potential, as their UK footprint simply wasn’t ready. He explained that in the early stages of the business they chose to turn down various opportunities as the company wasn’t yet ready to execute them successfully, something which he does not regret as the company now has a robust UK stronghold and is now in a better position to begin to export their product.
Know your company
Professor Devinney also stressed that the decision to export should not be based on wanting to scale-up, but on wanting to give more people the opportunity to access the business’ products or services. People should know and understand their own company and market before looking for global opportunities, as they are exporting not just a product but a business model which needs to make them distinctive within that eco system.
To know your company it is essential that you know the people in it, and that you share the same goals and ambitions, added Liam. He noted the importance of choosing board members and investors that you can work well with, explaining that he found the global scale-up programme he is a part of invaluable in finding these people who shared his vision but also brought their market knowledge and expertise to the business.
Build your connections
Liam also found the scale-up programme crucial in finding experts in specific aspects of the business such as marketing, PR, legal and accounting. He is a firm believer that business founders and CEO’s shouldn’t try to be an expert in all things, but should build a network of people they trust who are experts in their respective fields, to ensure that all parts of the business are highly efficient.
Sara Knowles, from the Department of International Trade, also explained how important these networks are when it comes to exports, to understand and overcome the barriers to international trade such as language, culture, political and technological factors. In addition, these connections can be used to make introductions to key figures in the markets that businesses are looking to enter.
Businesses that scale-up once are much more likely to do so again, explained Head of External Affairs at the Scale-Up Institute, Josh Robson. As a result of this, the ongoing support offered by these networks continues to be of great value to companies as they grow and in particular as they tackle the complexities involved in entering into the global market.
Join the next Alliance Manchester Business School Scale-up Forum on 18 June. Register here.