Q: Should we be encouraging more small Omani companies to consider exporting?
A: Absolutely. Although the Omani economy is delivering growth, many small businesses realized a simple truth during the global financial troubles that a domestic market can’t always be relied on, and exporting not only provides additional revenue – it can diversify risk. Today, Omani firms are exporting to over 135 countries.
Right now is the perfect time for small Oman businesses to start exploring the benefits of exporting. Or if you export a little already, then now is the time to look at expanding the number of markets you operate in.
Oman Export Week 2018 (OEW18) was all about helping local firms understand what’s involved in becoming a successful exporter, 15 workshops that covered everything from branding, labelling, specifications, international sales to logistics. In fact, we’re passionate about increasing the number of Omani companies exporting goods as well as services. However, we often hear the same story that small firms are just too busy running their day-to-day operations to consider becoming an exporter. Indeed, many believe exporting is simply too difficult of a challenge, and are often unaware of the outstanding export and financing services offered by organizations like Ithraa, Credit Oman, Madayn and Riyada.
Q: If exporting is beneficial to the growth and profit of a company, then why don't more small companies export?
First, companies often tell us they don’t know how to get started. Second, they think they don’t have the necessary staff with the right knowledge to go about entering the export space and how to follow through once orders are received. Third, companies are often frightened of the unknown. For small companies, these are hurdles they need support in overcoming and that’s why we put together OEW18.
The challenge, then, is not to convince Omani businesses of the merits of exporting their goods and services. They already know that exporting is great. We just need to show them we’re there to support and guide them. Indeed, the world is full of opportunities for Omani businesses.
Q: What are the issues potential exporters need to think through before they take the plunge?
Sometimes the best advice may seem a little obvious but the simplest questions can often be the most searching. SMEs in particular need to bear in mind that what works at home may not work overseas. They need to assess the suitability of their goods and services for export. For instance, they may not have enough profit margin to absorb export costs, or they might need to adapt their products to suit foreign laws or regulatory standards.
They have to factor in how much time they will need to devote to getting exports off the ground and what impact that could potentially have on their Oman operations. Logistics, product specifications, labelling and legal issues in other markets have to be thought through too. And even when your product is right for another market, quoting, invoicing, drawing up contracts, organizing shipment and getting paid can all be a challenge.
Then there are the cultural issues to consider. For example, in China and much of the Far East, business is developed out of personal relationships. No matter how great your product or service is, if the person you are meeting doesn’t like you, they will never do business with you. In fact, these were issues we covered at OEW18. Getting potential exporters to explore potential pain points and then helping them address them.
Q: Are exporters more successful than non-exporters?
This is a good question. In fact, a recent study published by the Washington DC based Peterson Institute for International Economics concluded that companies that export not only grow faster, but are nearly 8.5% less likely to go out of business than non-exporting companies. Food for thought, don’t you think?
Q: What are your top 10 reasons for Omani companies to start exporting?
There are so many great reasons to consider exporting, but if I had to list my top 10, it would probably include:
- Increase your overall sales and profits.
- Increase the scope of your business making you more competitive domestically.
- Capitalize on Oman’s geographic location and take advantage of our great logistics infrastructure.
- Tap into the trade agreements Oman has regionally and internationally.
- Reduce your reliance on a single domestic market.
- Extend and broaden your customer base.
- Add sustainable life into your line of current products.
- Flatten out any seasonal product use and market fluctuations to achieve a more even production schedule and sales performance.
- Leverage the power of social media and e-commerce that have dramatically increased access to worldwide markets.
- Finally, local firms need to understand that exporting can be lucrative for businesses of all sizes. On average, sales grow faster, more jobs are created and employees earn more than in non-exporting firms.
Q: There were two workshops at OEW18 on social media and Internet marketing – how important is it for local exporters to establish a clear digital strategy?
A: It’s crucial. Local firms need to make sure their social media presence and website are specifically tailored to their targeted customer and market. More than 2 billion people are already online – and digital tools like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat offer Omani exporters opportunities to not only increase dialogue with customers but also find new customers in existing and new markets.
A good website is a company’s corporate brochure and for most prospective clients it’s their first port of call. The website doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles, but it should be cleanly laid out with key information. Use of customer endorsements and photographs to show products or services is also really useful.
Social media can undoubtedly help Omani firms engage with international customers, generate conversation and help them find out what people are saying about their brand and business. Social media can certainly be daunting, but with some research and planning, it can be an outstanding marketing tool. To be frank, without a solid digital strategy, exporting is almost inconceivable.
Q: What would be your final piece of advice to potential Omani exporters?
A: Focus on a small number of initial markets and really do your research. Starting small lets you work out the kinks in your process, helps your company find out what you don’t know, and gives you time to build a savvy exporting strategy and team.
Plan to travel to meet your international partners and customers just as you do with your Omani business clients. There’s no better way to understand an international market than to visit it. Business transactions are built on trust, and trust comes by creating personal relationships with your overseas business partners. Ithraa regularly organizes B2B trade missions; for instance, we were recently in Kenya and the UK. These visits open doors that many companies wouldn’t be able to access on their own. And to signal the importance we place on these missions, they’re normally led by government ministers or recognized industry leaders.
However, if you’re still weary about exporting, there’s good news, it’s not as hard as it seems and there’s plenty of help available. Ithraa’s Export Development Directorate provides advice, training and finance signposting to local businesses, irrespective of their size, to help them take advantage of export opportunities. Our Team is entirely dedicated to helping small businesses succeed in the overseas marketplace.