Overcoming obstacles to exporting

Exporting can open a business up to a wealth of new opportunities, but the obstacles to entry can seem great.

Jennie Rich, operations manager for Open to Export at UK Trade & Investment, looks at what needs to be tackled to make it a success.

The potential rewards of exporting are huge, yet many businesses come across barriers to export. Here are some of the most common obstacles and how to tackle them head on.

Resource costs

Entering an overseas market can result in both additional financial investment and an extra commitment in terms of time and human resources. Taking the first few steps into a new market can be a lengthy process, with no returns until well after the initial outlays have been made.

To deal with the gap between investment and reward, discuss your position with both your bank manager and accountant.  Make sure your projections take into account the long term process. If you are investing in a high-growth market, your future customers and partners will be focused on building relationships at the beginning and there is no guarantee of a return for the first year.

Legal, regulatory and intellectual property issues

Some of the most commonly talked about barriers to exporting are regulatory and legal issues, while intellectual property protection is another, slightly less common hurdle.

How to go about dealing with legal, regulatory or IP issues is dependent on the processes in the territory you want to export to. It’s crucial to get a good grasp of how the procedures work in your chosen country before you start. There are plenty of resources which can help with this; it’s just a question of doing your homework.

Managing overseas risk

Risks such as unpredictable economic and political systems, corruption, online security and bribery, can put business owners off expanding into a new market.

Like legal issues, keeping up to speed with what is happening in your chosen market can help you avoid these issues. UK Trade & Investment and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office provide comprehensive online resources on economic, political and security risks in-country. These can help you circumvent problems which may befall some exporters.

Language and cultural barriers

When entering a new market you will also be dealing with a new culture. Business culture can even vary between regions of the same country so local knowledge is vital to building valuable working relationships.

Language is also a key issue in helping to build mutual confidence and respect between parties doing business.  Hiring an interpreter, or better still, investing in language training for you and your staff will help to bring down barriers. If you’re comfortable speaking the local language but do not have fluent written skills and local knowledge, think about hiring a translator for promotional material and business documentation. This can help with clarity and to avoid any embarrassing errors.

Think about local customs in relation to your product as well as your behaviour. Packaging or even aspects of your product itself may need to be altered or developed for your new customers.


The secret to simplifying international transport lies in the contract you have with your supplier. Make sure you are clear on who is responsible for each part of the process including transporting goods, insuring the goods during transportation, paying duties and customs clearance. Use Incoterms (International Commercial terms) – a universal system of contract language – to avoid any confusion.

Getting paid

You can avoid late or non-payment by agreeing acceptable payment terms, assessing any risk and thinking about appropriate insurance. UK Export Finance can offer help on this subject.

To minimise the risks of non-payment, you should research the market conditions in your target country and the credit worthiness of potential customers before you start trading.

There are also currency issues you need to consider. In some countries where there are restrictions on access to foreign currency, your customers may face problems getting currency to pay you. In this case, it’s worth insisting on a (confirmed) irrevocable letter of credit that secures payments according to the terms of the credit and often at an agreed rate. Alternatively, think about using a factoring company that can collect money from overseas on your behalf, for a fee.

See also: 3 ways to improve your chances of success exporting overseas

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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