Businesses across Scotland have been working hard in recent years to increase their global footprint – and it shows.
Data from HMRC shows that Scottish exports have grown seven per cent in the past year – two percentage points higher than the UK’s average – highlighting that overseas trading is firmly on Scottish businesses’ agendas.
It was also the topic of discussion at the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) Insight Conference last week. The event, Trading Nations Trading Expo, at which I was given the honour of speaking, aimed to help businesses understand how exporting can help them grow.
Business leaders joined government officials to highlight the benefits of overseas trade. We discussed what firms could do to improve the help that’s available for existing or would-be exporters, but the main takeaway for me was that a wealth of support is already available.
The future success of the Scottish economy depends on businesses of all sizes and sectors looking to overseas markets for growth and seizing the opportunities they bring, but they don’t have to go it alone.
One business that has used some of this support to grow overseas is Fife-based Optos, which now exports as much as 98 per cent of its retinal imaging products around the world.
The company was founded by Douglas Anderson after his son went blind in one eye, as a retinal detachment was detected too late due to the fact that eye exams in the 1990s were too uncomfortable to be effective on children.
We at the Bank of Scotland have worked with Optos for a decade, providing letters of credit and helping to structure the way the business exports, while Optos has also made use of a range of other research tools to help target new countries, including in the Middle East and Asia.
During this week’s event, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and minister for trade, investment and innovation Ivan McKee, talked about new plans to introduce peer-to-peer mentoring and the importance of getting advice from a trusted partner – whether it’s through someone who’s exported before or existing business advisers.
This type of support is one of many coming from government.
Since its inception, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has been a key source of information for businesses and a real success story of an organisation dedicated to helping firms grow overseas.
It offers support ranging from one-to-one guidance on issues such as tax and ecommerce, right through to their network of trade advisers.
At Bank of Scotland, we worked closely with the DIT to create our international trade portal, a hub to help businesses identify and prioritise the best overseas opportunities while also putting in place the right mix of financial tools needed to support exporters as they grow.
For Canada – a nation that’s becoming one of the fastest-growing export markets for Scotland – for example, the portal lists details of some 28,000 Canadian importers, along with the products they import.
Having this information at an exporter’s disposal gives them the insight they need to be able to focus their marketing efforts in exactly the right areas. It also means that companies can get to grips with any cultural differences ahead of initiating conversations with businesses in new markets.
These are some of many services and offerings of support available, and the Trading Nations Trading Expo really drove home the vast range of help that’s out there. For any business looking to take the first or next step in their exporting journey, there’s never been a better time to do so.
- Edward Thurman, MD and head of global transaction banking, Bank of Scotland