Moving up a gear: Sally Guyer of the Cambridge Raincoat Company was helped by the trial scheme.

Moving up a gear: Sally Guyer of the Cambridge Raincoat Company was helped by the trial scheme.

Open for business as free online service looks to boost SME exports

British SMEs will receive information, advice and guidance on exporting overseas thanks to a new free online service.

The Open to Export initiative has been launched by UK Trade & Investment in partnership with hibu plc (formerly Yell Group).

Trade and investment minister Lord Green 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."

The Open to Export service went live in a beta trial in June with businesses provided with content around how to trade in the USA and India. The service is now being rolled out to include other major markets.

It gives small businesses the guidance and in-depth information they need to expand their business abroad. Companies will receive bespoke answers to meet their business needs in new markets, access practical information on export topics, connect and engage with a range of exporters and explore the latest international opportunities for their business.

Sally Guyer from the Cambridge Raincoat Company, which specialises in raincoats for cyclists, used the Open to Export site to ask various questions about exporting.

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.”

In addition to accessing government advice, through international trade advisors based at British embassies and high commissions, companies can also receive support from existing and prospective exporters, lawyers, accountants and independent trade advisors.

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.”

And John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: “We know that boosting our exports, especially to new high-growth markets will be a crucial driver of future UK growth.

“The government’s Open to Export portal will help support business export success, by creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ of advice for both would-be and existing exporters. Importantly the platform will also allow companies to share market intelligence and network.”

“Hearing how one firm succeeded in overcoming this piece of regulation or that market access challenge could be just the light bulb moment needed for another firm to make the leap into selling, and winning overseas.”

The launch of the website comes just over a year after the prime minister set a national challenge to raise the number of small businesses that export from one in five to one in four. By increasing the number of companies who export by roughly a quarter, about £36bn could be added to the UK economy. founder, Brent Hoberman said: “This new initiative is a great example of how government can act as a catalyst to UK businesses to help each other - in this case in the crucial area of increasing British exports abroad by finding relevant experts who can help them trade.”

Exports are vital for the country’s economic recovery. The latest research shows that firms that export generate an average growth of 30 per cent after exporting for just two years.

Alongside, the government has also recently announced £9m worth of support to help boost trade opportunities for SME businesses and from 12 November is launching this year’s national Export Week campaign.

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.”


UK Trade & Investment

Middle East Association

Institute of Export

British Chambers of Commerce