Are you ready to export?
Find out what you need to consider when thinking about trading outside Northern Ireland
If you're only selling your products and services within Northern Ireland, you may be missing a great opportunity to grow your business. An increasing number of local businesses are regularly selling goods and services to other parts of the UK, Republic of Ireland, European Union and beyond.
To make the most of the opportunities open to you, you will need careful planning and thorough research. This guide highlights the advantages and disadvantages of exporting and the support for internatonal trade.
How can I start exporting?
While you may be thriving in the home market, bear in mind that you will need different skills within your business to successfully start exporting.
Starting to export
You can start exporting by answering the following questions:
- Can you objectively analyse your own business and its strengths and weaknesses? Before you start, research your intended markets and analyse where the gaps are in your business.
- Do you speak any languages? If you can speak to and understand your customers in their native tongue, it may prevent problems and misunderstandings.
- How strong are your logistics and management? If you start trading overseas, the longer delivery distance will highlight any weaknesses in these systems.
- Have you got a management team in place who can run the home market successfully while you devote time to building an international business? Or is there someone else in your business who is better suited to the overseas development?
Support for exporting
There are many sources of advice and support available to help you start exporting. Invest Northern Ireland runs a number of programmes to support businesses who are thinking of exporting.
Resources and support are available for export market research and while it may be tempting to carry out a market visit straightaway, it may be a good idea to contact Invest Northern Ireland first.
Help is available to businesses who want to sell their goods or services outside Northern Ireland. Services include:
- an assessment of your readiness for trading outside Northern Ireland
- help with fact-finding visits
- trade show research in your target market
- practical support from businesses that are already trading outside Northern Ireland
Is my product suitable for exporting?
Deciding if your product is right for selling outside Northern Ireland
It's essential to carry out thorough export market research before you start selling outside Northern Ireland. Entering new markets can boost your turnover and your profit. However, you need to plan carefully to minimise any risks to your business.
Establishing if your product is suitable for exporting
Start by making sure that:
there is a demand for your product in your target market
you understand who would buy it - and why
there is a route to market eg. via an agent or distributor
you understand how you will communicate with your customers - before, during and after the sale
Read more about how you can manage the risks of exporting.
Understanding your market through export research
To gain this essential insight, you'll need:
to access market data on the potential size of your market
an understanding of the competitive situation in your target market
knowledge of how to communicate with your potential customers
Advantages and disadvantages of exporting
Advantages and disadvantages of trading outside Northern Ireland and tax considerations
Exporting outside Northern Ireland can change your business. Like any fundamental change to the way you trade, there are risks as well as benefits you should consider. You should weigh them up before starting to move into overseas markets.
Advantages of exporting
You could significantly expand your markets, leaving you less dependent on any single one.
Greater production can lead to larger economies of scale and better margins.
Your research and development budget could work harder as you can change existing products to suit new markets.
Disadvantages of exporting
Unless you're careful, you can lose focus on your home markets and existing customers.
Your administration costs may rise as you may have to deal with export regulations when trading outside the European Union.
You will be managing more remote relationships, sometimes thousands of miles away.
In overseas markets, you may lose some of the control that you are used to at home.
You will need to think of your new market differently to the home market. They will be different customers with their own reasons for buying your products.
There are ways you can manage the risks of exporting.
Tax considerations when exporting
You will have different responsibilities for VAT depending on whether you sell to other European Union (EU) countries or export your goods outside of the EU.
If you sell to other countries in the EU, you must keep records and submit details of these sales on your VAT return. If you have a high level of sales to EU countries, you must complete an Intrastat Supplementary declaration. Read an introduction to Intrastat.
If you sell to countries outside the EU, you must keep documents that count as proof of export. These must identify:
the goods and their value
the export destination
the mode of transport and the route.
In both cases, most goods you export will be zero-rated for VAT. You should check with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
Read our step-by-step guide to exporting.
Accessing trade networks
When you're moving into a new business area, it pays to use the advice of people who already have significant experience. Other people who have been through the same processes can offer invaluable advice. They can also warn you of the potential pitfalls.
Invest Northern Ireland runs a suite of services and programmes that can help you to research export markets, develop your export know-how and take part in trade visits and exhibitions. Read more about Invest NI's support for exporting.
Invest Northern Ireland also supports businesses working collaboratively. This support is designed to make Northern Ireland businesses aware of potential international trading partners and put them in touch wherever possible. Find out more about working collaboratively.
Chamber Connections from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry can help you access trade advice and establish contacts in international markets. Connecting You to International Chambers can put businesses in touch with contacts in overseas market. Connecting You to Local Businesses can link you to experienced exporters, so you can benefit from their experience.
Read more about the available network support for exporting.
Support for international trade
Before you make your first move into an overseas market, it's essential that you get advice and support. This will increase your chances of getting it right first time and significantly boosting your business.
Read more about the available support for exporting.
Invest Northern Ireland has a range of support options open to new and established businesses to help them start trading successfully outside Northern Ireland. It can offer market information to those researching export markets and opportunities. The range includes:
- worldwide company profiles
- agent and distributor details
- sales leads
- online access to factsheets and guides on international trade