First of all let us clarify the issues. Exports are used as a generic term here but really the point is how can Irish SME generate revenues in markets outside Ireland. So what strategies can Irish companies employ to generate revenues abroad?

1. Export goods and services to businesses and customers in other markets. This is the more traditional way of generating revenue in foreign markets. This is a simple sales strategy. This can be done by selling into wholesalers, retailers, web-based selling or by selling inputs into companies abroad.
2. Develop strategic alliances with foreign companies or start-ups. Here you find a partner in another market and they develop your product/service in their country and you help develop their product/service in this country. Not only do you generate new revenues in a foreign market but you gain new products and services to sell at home.
3. Buy into or buy out a foreign owned company in their market. There are many countries without the fully developed entrepreneurial culture. You may be surprised that there are companies in central and eastern Europe that might be glad of some new capital but, more importantly, the business and sales experience to develop their markets. For example, it is a lot easier to sell in the Czech or Hungarian markets if you have a local company with some track record and existing customer base. However, it is also easier to sell into the German market from the Czech Republic or Hungary or Poland. The profits generated by this trading are either fully or partly brought back to your company at home. You generate more income and profits, expand your markets and make exporting abroad simpler.

However, this is will only happen if Irish SME owners and managers actually want to go abroad and generate income. The government can promote programmes and policies regarding international trade but unless the Irish business community actually want to get market shares abroad, then we will not make much progress.

A legitimate point is that Irish SME may have weaknesses to address before they can develop international markets. Here are some ideas on how they may address these issues:

• If you do not have knowledge of the potential market then try and make contact with either our embassy there, the foreign embassy here or make contact with the local representative organisation for the ethnic-minority community here. It surprises me that the there has not been more work done in the area of economic integration here. The local ethnic-minority communities have local knowledge, the local language and personal contacts available. There is a clear opportunity for Irish SME and Irish ethnic-minority communities to work together to develop the specific foreign markets.
• You have got to go there and make contacts. The City and County Enterprise Boards, Enterprise Ireland and many other bodies have annual trade missions. Use them. But flights are relatively cheap and a few days on legitimate business prospecting is a legitimate business write-off.
• Develop a plan. Do your market research and pick the markets that you believe give the best opportunities for your product/service. Build into your annual business plan a certain amount of time and resources into developing foreign markets (of course…you should do an annual business plan in the first place).
• Make local contacts with the relevant ethnic-minority communities. Do your market research. Get the low down and be prepared before you go. A useful way of getting translators, both for the language and the local business nuances.
• See what help is available in the form of grants to assist international trade. Remember that nearly all CEB and EI grants are aimed at internationally traded companies. Also check what other resources they can provide. EI local offices may actually be available.

The message is simple: widen your horizons and develop new markets! We are not going to trade ourselves into economic growth by staying at home and trying to focus on the Irish market.