Exporting mistakes that businesses should avoid

SMEs that have made it locally and are ready to attain the next level of growth by venturing into the export market should avoid making costly mistakes that could potentially harm their businesses.

Bobby Madhav, Head of Trade and Collateralised Trade Finance at FNB Business says, businesses entering the export market for the first time often mistakenly assume that merely doing research and having a good concept and value proposition are enough to guarantee success.

“In spite of these important factors, without the relevant experience, guidance and partnerships, small businesses are bound to fall victim to costly export errors,” says Madhav as he shares ten common export mistakes that businesses should aim to avoid.

• Not willing to learn from othersSMEs that consult experienced exporters, within their sectors, learn a great deal from their past failures and successes. This form of advice is usually free and can save a business time and money.

• Abandoning core marketneglecting the core market can result in the business losing customers and market share. This can lead to complete failure, should the export business not do well.

• Replicating products – because each market is unique, it is essential that products and services are tailored accordingly. Merely replicating a model does not guarantee success.

• Not forming the right partnerships – it is not practical to try and understand all the local market dynamics through acquired research. SMEs should aim to form the right partnerships with suppliers and stakeholders on the ground to improve their chances of success.

• Long-term commitmentventuring into an export market should be approached as long-term commitment for the business. Expecting success too soon will often result in disappointment.

• Underestimating competitionSMEs should never underestimate competitors regardless of how good their offerings may be. Competitors do not want to lose market share and can quickly adjust their products and services, since they understand the market better.

• Over extending the businessresources and energy should be invested in one market at a time. Once successful and the business is operating smoothly, only then can expansion to other markets be considered.

• Trade finance mistakes - collaborating with a bank or financial services provider that can offer SME exporters unique solutions to overcome financial constraints is essential. SMEs should consider financing and risk hedging solutions that cater for all their exporting needs.

• Poor risk managementit is almost impossible to prepare for the scale of business risks presented by foreign markets without a comprehensive risk management plan in place, which takes into account factors such as politics, regulation, crime, cultural and market risks etc.

• Not having a plan C – one of the questions that business owners should ask themselves when putting together their export plans is – what happens if my plan A and B fail? A thorough export plan should be forward looking and contain the lowest level of detail.


“The biggest mistake that small businesses entering the export market can make is to be conservative and overconfident. It is often what you don’t know that can hurt your business the most,” concludes Madhav.

Article first appeared in Export & Import SA  export&importlogo.gif