By Andrew Watson, Executive Director, Export Finance, Efic
At Efic we work with a range of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) across a range of industries – from professional services and technology to manufacturing and education and training. In our experience with these SMEs we have found that successful exporters understand the importance of networking.
Establishing and maintaining professional networks are crucial for SME exporters looking to meet new customers, win new business and deliver on an export contract.
The benefits of an effective network are clear, as meeting and nurturing the right partners can help you to open more doors, win more customers and be a valuable source of support advice.
Having a strong export network can help you to:
- Increase sales. Building your network and establishing partnerships is only half the battle – the hard part is getting them to actually sell your product or service. Delivering exactly what your partners need to support their sales efforts can make a big difference to your export revenue.
“Give your partners everything they need to succeed.” Matthew Michaelwicz, entrepreneur.
- Avoid mistakes. If you’re looking to target a particular industry or overseas market, take advantage of what your network knows about this – the good and the bad. Many in your network will be happy to provide ideas and advice, so make a point of asking questions and learning from their experiences.
“I have the greatest respect for my partners. These people want to help us. What I learnt about selling overseas… was from the people overseas.” Sean Ashby, aussieBum.
- Find new customers. If your customers are multinational, it’s likely that they have offices around the world that deal with others that could also be your customers. Fostering strong relationships and widening your network overseas allows you to be introduced to new customers, up and down your supply chain.
“Our supply chain is more than willing to help us by putting us in contact with their end customers, because there are synergies and it is a mutually beneficial relationship.” Linh Bui, HMPS.
- Fix mistakes. Export transactions rarely go completely to plan. So if something does go wrong with your product or its delivery, having a strong network of local partners can be a huge help, especially if you don’t have an ‘on-the-ground’ presence in that market.
“You’ve got to have a good network of either agents or in-country personnel to support you when things go wrong.” Aaron Begley, Matrix Composites and Engineering.
- Build loyalty. Like a garden, networks need to be watered, so take the time to show people in your network how much you appreciate their support and advice. If you thank people when they support you, they will be more likely to help you again next time.
“Our referral program… if someone’s told someone to eat Carman’s, we ask for their details and then we send them a little thank you present in the post. People love that.” Carolyn Creswell, Carman’s Kitchen.
How SMEs can build networks
There’s no doubt that building an effective network takes time and effort. Here are four simple strategies that all SME exporters can use to get started:
Join an industry association. Every industry has at least one association, with many providing valuable resources for members, regular magazines with industry news and updates, and regular events and forums for sharing advice and knowledge.
Appear at trade shows. Trade shows and expos, in Australia and in overseas, are a great way for SME exporters to put their goods and services in front of potential partners and customers.
Attend industry events. Industry events and conferences are excellent for connecting with potential customers and meeting your peers. Export organisations like Austrade and Efic host regular networking events that provide information and advice for SME exporters.
Engage in face-to-face meetings. Travelling overseas and meeting potential local partners shows commitment and is vital to building up your overseas network. Austrade has representatives in many overseas markets who can set up appointments with potential partners and customers.