QUESTION: I want to explore export opportunities for my business. Can you advise on how to go about researching overseas markets?
GARY CAMPBELL, from Invest NI's Global Start team, replies:
It’s very important that you thoroughly research potential markets before committing to exporting, to avoid costly mistakes.
You’ll want to find out about potential customers, competitors and the trading environment in each market that you are interested in.
There are a lot of resources that you can access to help you carry out your research. Invest NI’s European Information Centre has a comprehensive range of business information.
The centre is staffed by specialists who can point you to relevant documents and databases and also source specific market information for you.
You can contact them by phone on (028) 9069 8135 or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by calling into the centre at Invest NI headquarters.
Invest NI also runs workshops to help new exporters to research potential markets and gear up for exporting. You can find out more and register for these on www.investni.com/exportworkshops.
Another excellent resource is Invest NI’s nibusinessinfo.co.uk website. In the ‘Researching overseas markets’ section, there is extensive information on all the issues you need to consider, from how to analyse your target market, to cultural and language issues, market entry, promotion and selling.
There are also useful links to other websites that can provide further infor
mation, such as the UK Trade and Investment website.
If you are interested in one particular market it may be worthwhile organising a market visit to really get a feel for it. Again Invest NI may be able to help — visit www.investni.com/trade.
QUESTION: I’m planning to seek funding for my business. What documentation should I prepare?
TERRY REILLY from Invest NI's Trade Development Services team replies:
A comprehensive and well-presented business plan is the best document you can show to potential funders.
It will help them to understand your business aims and will give them all the key information they need to make a funding decision.
The plan should be up to date and contain information on the following key areas: trading history to date, key personnel and responsibilities; your marketing plan, including sales forecasts, and financial information.
Potential investors must understand your business model and why you believe it will be successful. They will also need to be convinced of the level of return they can expect within a stated timescale.
Other funders, such as banks, will want to know what their money will be used for and how and when their funds will be repaid. The more detail you can give in the financial information the better.
As well as standard documents such as profit and loss and balance sheet, you should include a cash flow forecast for two to three years. It’s also important to indicate the key assumptions including how you will manage credit, expenditure, stock control, and debtors and
creditors. You will need to clearly identify the peak funding requirement of the business and how you propose to source that amount.
You can get a lot of practical advice about preparing an effective business plan on Invest NI’s nibusinessinfo.co.uk website.
QUESTION: Why is my charity website not making money?
NIALL McKEOWN, managing director of ION Online Marketing, replies:
Many not-for-profits treat their online marketing in much the same way as their offline, attracting patrons, asking them for a donation, and then — when the time feels right — asking them for another one using direct mail and email marketing.
Email marketing is a low-cost, easy way for not-for-profits to expand their reach to patrons and increase their donations. With this in mind, many NFPs have the somewhat simplistic view that all they need is a shiny new website and a bunch of people to target.
The reality, however, is that this method is neither scalable nor cost-effective. Online marketing is the most cluttered marketing environment in the world, so getting noticed requires more than just knocking doors. It requires taking a unique approach, which is different to that of your competitors.
My advice is not to try to compete online with a traditional message — your voice is not strong enough. Your challenge is to make your online message different so you need to change your message to give people something to talk about. And guess what — they will!