New digital export service launches for small businesses

hibu plc (“hibu”), a leading digital services provider, and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) today announce the launch of Open to Export, a new online service to help UK-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to trade internationally.

Open to Export gives SMEs the guidance and in-depth information they need to take their business overseas. Businesses can register for free, connect and engage with the exporting community and ask and answer specific export related questions. Answers are provided from UK Trade & Investment officers based in UK Embassies and High Commissions throughout the world, recognised third party experts and experienced small businesses able to help other small businesses on their export journey. The experts providing the advice can also promote themselves through a variety of paid for programmes on the site.

The Open to Export initiative was first announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last November. For the launch a year on, Lord Green, Minister of State for Trade & Investment, said:

“Supporting more small and medium sized enterprises to export is a key part of the government’s plan for growth. The Prime Minister outlined this as a national challenge last year, targeting a further 100,000 British businesses exporting by 2020 and the doubling of export receipts to £1 trillion.

“Half of the UK’s exports, by value, already come from SMEs. Open to Export will provide practical assistance, advice and support to other businesses looking to make that crucial first step to sell into foreign markets.”

Almost 5,000 unique users per month are already using the site, with access to more than 2,000 pieces of editorial advice content and event information from 50 different organisations including the CBI, Santander and The Law Society and also Government organisations including the Intellectual Property Office and UK Export Finance. Topics include: managing international payments, choosing a translation provider, benefits of attending global conferences, employment Visas and many more.

Sally Guyer from The Cambridge Raincoat Company that specialises in fashionable raincoats for cyclists, used the site to ask various questions about exporting and received seven responses in total. She said: “I wanted to maximise my international opportunities, particularly in wholesale, and Open to Export put me in direct contact with experts who understood my frustrations about starting to export and were happy to share their knowledge which was invaluable to me.”

Jackie Hutchings, Marketing Director of Wiltshire based weight loss coaching and hypnosis start-up Zlimm123, said: “This is a really useful service for a busy start-up like my company. I can post a question, get on with other jobs, and then come back to some excellent responses from a variety of sources. The expert advice we were given has helped us in our decision to take our product to the US market.”
Philip Gray from Commercial Doctor Ltd, a company that advises businesses looking to engage with the Brazilian marketplace, said: “On my first visit to the Open to Export site, I saw a question within my scope of expertise from a company which is looking at business development in Brazil. Answering that question has led to a firm new lead, which as a consultancy service provider, is exactly what I am looking for.”

Richard Hanscott, Chief Executive Officer of hibu in the UK, said: “We have a long established relationship with the SME community and UKTI research tells us that 33% of businesses report that lack of contacts is a barrier to export*. hibu’s digital strategy is to help communities thrive and the Open to Export site is already achieving this by giving small businesses access to the knowledge and advice necessary to grow with confidence outside the UK.”

Businesses wanting to trade overseas also have access to a customised eMarketplace on the site enabling them to purchase products and services from businesses that can help them trade overseas. Merchants with a presence on the Open to Export Store include translation services, air freight services, insurance, training and haulage companies.

As part of a series of activities to mark the launch, Open to Export will be running a number of features as well as being present at related events over the coming months. These will include:

8th November – 21st November: A focus on ‘Getting Started’ in export to coincide with the start of Export Week. Open to Export will feature new content and experts that can help companies new to exporting.

6th December – 19th December: Spotlight on USA with a US themed event held in Cambridge on 11th December with US experts and UKTI commercial staff. Open to Export will also be featuring articles and content focused on exporting to the USA, alongside a team of experts ready to answer your questions.

Open to Export will be continuing to feature topics and countries throughout next year. Look out for the ‘Why UK businesses should export’ infographic, available on the site soon.

* UKTI International Business Strategies & Awareness Monitoring Survey 2011
(OMB Research)

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