Inspiring SMEs to 'Go Further and Grow Stronger'
Invest Northern Ireland wants to help more SMEs unlock the potential of external markets
Understandably 'big business' often grabs the headlines given the impact major companies have on employment, the region's economic performance and our international reputation.
But with 99.9 per cent of Northern Ireland's 124,000 private sector businesses classified as micro, small or medium-sized, SMEs are equally deserving of the spotlight. SMEs employ 77 per cent of the NI workforce and their growth and success have the potential to have a major transformative effect on our economy.
Encouragingly, over 11,000 (1 in 11) businesses in Northern Ireland are currently exporting their products and services to some 62 countries globally. There are some fantastic exemplars of truly ambitious, external growth focussed businesses that merit celebration and recognition - as they inspire all SMEs to 'Go Further and Grow Stronger'.
Invest Northern Ireland wants to help more SMEs unlock the potential of external markets; opening up markets and customer opportunities way beyond NI's population of 1.9 million people.
Anne Beggs, Invest Northern Ireland's Director of Trade and Investment believes that local SMEs can definitely Go Further and Grow Stronger, saying: "The numbers show the real potential there is for more of our SMEs to build on their domestic successes and begin selling into external markets.
“We live in a global society; the tastes and preferences of local consumers are often reflective of those worldwide, and Northern Ireland already has a strong reputation for world-class products and services. "Therefore, it makes sense that the products and services which are commercially successful here could and should be sold outside Northern Ireland."
Anne continues: "Confidence and knowing where to go for help and advice are key. I know that selling beyond the local marketplace may seem daunting for businesses that have only traded domestically up to now.
“Some may say it's literally venturing into unknown territory, but in our experience, an incremental, step-by-step approach can build confidence, secure new sales and provide a launchpad for more ambitious market exploration."
Securing sales outside our domestic market is one of the key drivers of business growth so Invest NI always recommends that micro and SMEs look to neighbouring markets when beginning to think about their growth plans.
Anne's advice to businesses is to follow a tried and tested model, she said: "We have markets here on our doorstep in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland that offer great potential and minimal risks for those looking to dip their toes into selling externally and broaden their horizons beyond Northern Ireland.
“In fact, over 15,000 local businesses currently sell products and services into Great Britain and over 11,000 trade in the Republic of Ireland."
Both of these markets are within easy reach – there are no additional administrative requirements or regulatory checks selling goods to either of these markets, yet they present the opportunity to sell products and services to an additional 70 million people. The Irish market also provides a natural first base for those ultimately seeking to expand into other EU markets.
Invest NI is keen to help businesses break into these markets and the first stage in this process is to grow the ambition of our SMEs, which is being driven by a high-profile advertising campaign called Go Further, Grow Stronger. When talking about this promotional campaign Anne said: "We considered all the factors which influence our external sales performance and decided to focus our efforts on creating awareness of the benefits of selling outside Northern Ireland and the opportunities which exist on our doorstep – and our Go Further Grow Stronger campaign grew from there."
"Through our advertising, we are planting the seed with businesses about selling to Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland; our ads feature imagery of Dublin, Cork, Glasgow, London and Cardiff, all very viable sales locations for Northern Ireland businesses."
The advertising encourages businesses to complete our Export Health Check which will assess their export readiness. This Check has only 8 questions, takes about 10 minutes to complete and results in a tailored guide with practical tips and templates for selling outside Northern Ireland. Any business which completes the health check can avail of a 1-1 consultation session with an export expert from our trade advisory team which will help them explore their exporting potential further and consider their next steps."
Invest NI provides a wide range of support to help SMEs take that first step into exporting – here is a flavour of what's on offer.
Talking to Invest NI's Trade Advisory Team is a great way to consider your next move. Trade advisors can offer businesses a range of advice, guidance and signposting to support with market research, sourcing new business opportunities, and planning for entry to neighbouring markets. They are there essentially to handhold and build confidence for new exporters.
Researching your intended market can also provide reassurance to those considering expanding their customer base beyond Northern Ireland for the first time. Invest NI's Business Information Centre, holds extensive market research reports and company directories, and its Tenders Alert Service also flags local, UK and European contract opportunities from a wide range of public sector organisations through its daily email alert service as well as information about selling to government.
Invest NI also provides Practical Export Skills Workshops; these bite-size, interactive, one-day training workshops on export-related topics are designed to build knowledge and understanding of the various processes involved in selling outside NI to increase businesses' capability in developing and implementing exporting plans. Topics include using social media for sales optimization, developing compelling sales pitches and an introduction to export documentation and logistics.
Invest Northern Ireland is also working in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) and, from September 2022, businesses from Northern Ireland can participate in the Department of International Trade's online Export Academy.
If your business is considering selling outside Northern Ireland, visit Investni.com/export or if you would like to speak to a trade advisor please contact Invest NI or alternatively call their Business Support Team on 0800 181 4422.