Karen McLeod manages the export advisory service at Scottish Enterprise, providing support to help Scottish Businesses trade overseas.

Last year a record number of Scottish businesses, large and small, started thinking globally and branched out overseas.  We spoke to Karen to find out why it’s important to consider selling internationally and the ways in which you can do it successfully.

Why is exporting important? 

Overseas markets have become increasingly important to the Scottish economy and in 2015 Scotland’s international exports were valued at £28.7 billion*, a 3.6% increase from 2014.

Our research shows that many overseas markets are underserved and there is demand for Scottish products and services internationally. This, paired with the fact that SDI supported 2,500 businesses to export last year, shows that there is opportunity and the ambition for exporting to continue to grow.

What are the benefits?

Trading abroad can boost your profile, credibility and bottom line.  That applies whether you’re trading with established markets such as the EU and USA, or high-growth markets like Brazil, China, India, Colombia and Vietnam.

International markets like these offer you access to new customers, revenue and ideas. Crucially, they enable you to spread your business risk, increase the commercial lifespan of your products and services and secure economies of scale which are not always possible at home. In fact, exporting is now considered essential for Scottish businesses that want to safeguard future growth.

The figures are compelling, showing that those firms that choose to export become 34% more productive in their first year** while those already exporting achieve 59% faster productivity growth than non-exporters**, positively impacting on staffing and financial performance.

Doing business overseas brings further benefits such as fostering ideas for new products and services. Once a company has ‘dipped their toe’ into a new market this in turn tends to increase confidence and ambition and provides the momentum for further growth through exporting.

What are the barriers and how can you overcome them?

Exporting can seem daunting to smaller businesses and the thought of going it alone can often be off putting and seen as high risk.  Collaborating with others can be a way to address those risks and make the most of the opportunities that exporting brings.

How can collaboration help businesses access international markets?

Businesses can collaborate using the consortium co-operative business model. This model allows businesses to come together for a shared purpose; to buy or sell in scale, market more effectively, share facilities or jointly bid for contracts. Collaborative activity can include the creation of a portfolio brand for export, consolidated shipping and joint e-commerce activity.

Made In Scotland Collaborative Export Solutions team members

Made In Scotland: Collaborative Export Solutions team members

A good example of businesses successfully adopting this approach is recent Collaboration Prize winner Made in Scotland: Collaborative Export Solutions, a collaboration of eleven companies involved in the luxury food and drink sector. Selling a range of products including salmon, cheese, gin and whisky, the member businesses pool together their resources and experience to extend their offering to the lucrative overseas market. Among the members is an e-commerce and logistics firm, giving valuable insight into this aspect of exporting.


To find out more about the support available to help you collaborate and access international markets, visit here.

*Export Statistics Scotland 2016
**UK Government UK Trade & Investment research publication – Bringing home the benefits: how to grow through exporting