Using Your Website as an Export Sales Tool

It isn’t called the World Wide Web for nothing.

As the digital world has gradually become normal, it is already hard to remember what it was like to be a small business twenty years ago, when your market was what you could physically reach in person, by mail or by phone. Now, even the smallest one man band invariably has a website, which means they have a window on the world. A shop window. Customers from Santiago Chile to Moscow can find them.

Of course, a great many businesses retain a local target market, and probably always will. Hairdressers, corner shops, garages are by definition local services and in most cases are unlikely to be of interest to anyone from far beyond their own neighbourhood. But for any business with a truly unique selling point, the world really has become a whole lot smaller in the last two decades.

Any business that is just starting, or even just starting to think about, exporting will do well to consider how the internet can play a vital role. A reasonably professional looking website, with some fairly basic search engine optimisation (SEO) is likely to attract some interest if there is a genuine international demand for your products or services.

Take steps to capture the interest. A website that has a ‘call to action’ can be a very effective way of making a direct contact with potential customers. This might take the form of a prize draw or free gift (but be mindful of the logistical and cost implications of delivering free gifts around the world. Even Santa only does that once a year.) Another method is to have content on your website that is password protected, meaning the visitor has to leave personal details. If your products or services can benefit from visual demonstrations or training aids, consider uploading such content to your website, and place it in a password protected area. If people are not only visiting your site, but going to the trouble of filling in their details to find out more, the interest is probably more than casual.

For a prospective exporter, website traffic information can help to answer two vital questions that used to fox others. Those questions are, “Is there demand for my products in other countries? And “Where should I start?”

Naturally, such data is fallible and potentially misleading, so should only be treated as a starting point. Bear in mind for example, that if your website is monolingual and only tagged for English language search engines, then it will be no surprise if the apparent interest is coming predominantly from countries where English is either the first language or at least very widely spoken. Nevertheless, if traffic to your website is significant, it can prove to be a useful source or information about where people appear to be interested in your products or services.

Social media can be a very cost effective way of driving traffic to your website and creating interest, not least because they are largely free to use. We looked at the use of social media in a previous article. Try using popular media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to drive traffic to your site. Creating a stream of topical content, such as a blog, can be very effective.

If your website is generating leads as described, then use them. The visitor has left their details, thereby giving permission to contact them directly. Send them carefully composed messages, but be careful not to overdo it, make it easy for them to opt out and respect their wishes if they do. It may be that you are not in a position to supply the enquirer, but you can use the contact to find out more about the market. Ask them about local competition, pricing and where the competitor’s products are available from. Such information is invaluable, and can be used to help create a market entry strategy.

The all-pervading presence of the internet has changed our lives in a great many ways. For the novice or would-be exporter, it provides a way to reach out to prospective customers, partners and intermediaries that could only have been done in costly and time-consuming ways before. Your company website offers you a way to reach people in remote places that previous generations would have given their right arms for. Don’t neglect it. Your journey into export success could begin with a few clicks on your keyboard, some tweets and some simple steps to optimise your website.

Article written by Tim Hiscock - Associate of Strong & Herd LLP

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