Nick is an entrepreneur, who also looks after two kids – a Dadpreneur. In this second article about being a dadpreneur, Nick gives useful tips for anyone considering export opportunities.
For lots of start-ups exporting is not only a great opportunity, since Brexit export has become a necessity. Here is why. Most toys are made in China. Brands like mine pay the Chinese in US dollars. If you have been following the dollar exchange rate against the pound since 23 June, you will know the pound has had a tough time. Anyone who buys from China is feeling the pinch right now and we are having to look at new opportunities.
My toys are striking a chord with dads in the US. Dads in the USA love sport and I make toys for babies with sporty parents. I desperately want to be first to market my toys in other countries that love sport as much as the Brits.
Here are three useful export tips that I have learned:
Export the brand, not the product
What do I mean? A brand is a lot more than a product with a price tag in a shop. It is everything that a company represents – the philosophy, the principles, the story behind the brand. If you create a brand, your brand becomes personal. There is a danger you start to lose your brand identity when you start to export. It is important your export partners understand your vision. Don’t let dollar signs blur your vision of your brand.
From the perspective of a retailer, they have a remarkably similar understanding of the importance of brands to the original founders. I recall my first discussion with a Chinese department store. This was a store in China that has a reputation for quality. They wanted to know that they were buying a reputable brand. At first, they asked some obvious questions. Had I been to the factory that made my toys? How did I choose the fabric that made up the toys? So far so good, but they kept on grilling me, asking me in-depth questions about my business partners. I admit I was not expecting such an interrogation.
My lesson from this interrogation was that being a dadpreneur comes with a tag. You can’t do everything yourself, therefore, you become very dependent on business partners. However much retailers like you as a person, they will want to know you have chosen your business partner wisely.
Choose your partners well
You must choose your business partners well, therefore, take your time to get to know who your business partners really are. Business partners will either make or break your export business, therefore, it is critically important to do your due diligence!
First, search into their backgrounds on the internet. I recommend that you run some google alerts on prospective partners. If you find the nothing is being written about them, ask yourself why not and whether that matters to you. Does it reflect what their PR team is like?
Second, find an opportunity see your potential partners in action. For a dadpreneur with kids to look after, taking time out to visit business partners is really hard. This is one of the times you need to call your friends or family to help out. You will learn more a lot at a trade show, more than you will ‘googling’ so in my opinion, they are well worth attending. You will very quickly see how your partners exhibit, what they exhibit, what are their priorities, what is their attitude towards customers.
Third, try to speak to your prospective partner’s clients or even their competitors. Try to pick up any comments that suggest how they perform and how they operate. You can pick up small snippets of information that just might save you in the future!
As a rule of thumb, you can learn a lot from your business partners by the question they ask you. You can learn as much from the questions they don’t ask you. Ask yourself if they interested in your products only, or your brand reputation? Questions like what inspired the brand, how did you finance it? How do they treat their suppliers? Their questions will indicate whether they have a genuine interest in you and it will influence how they will present your brand.
At the end of the day, trust your gut instinct.
Don’t forget to export your story
One of my favourite sales reps asked me to meet a major buyer for a pitch. The buyer asked me one question. She asked how I was planning to share my story. Why did the buyer care? I explained that I was staying at home to look after the kids and saw there was a gap in the market for baby toys that would appeal directly to dads. She could identify with other dads like me and she also had a story to tell her boss. It is super important for start-ups to have a great story and to be prepared to use the story to maximum effect.
It’s easy, right, what with Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, Medium, to tell your story? The trouble is that no-one is listening. There are so much social media now that it is hard to make your story stand out. You have to be strategic. You need to be creative and find a social and PR strategy that suits your brand.
A strong brand, reliable partners and a good story – three definite ingredients to making your export strategy work. For sure, exporting is fun and financially rewarding if you do it well. Compare the baby market in different countries.
There are 700,000 babies born in the UK each year, 4 million born in the US and a staggering 16 million Chinese born. Your export market is there for the taking.
Your export market is there for the taking.