We may fund startups based in the UK, but this doesn’t mean their ambitions are limited to trading here. More and more we’re seeing SMEs with international goals from the start, excited at the prospect of doing business with other countries or recognising that their product has a global appeal.

Seb Francis is one our VSU Ambassadors, and the co-founder of Titus Learning. His company provides online learning solutions to schools all around the world. Having visited China numerous times over the past two years, and established an early foothold, he shares some of things he’s learnt about doing business in China. This is the first in our series of posts. Got questions? Get in touch with Seb over on Twitter at @sebfrancis1.

How to get started exporting to China

Once again, I find myself fortunate enough to be sat in a hotel room in China. As much as my Instagram shows the nice bars and sights of China, I do actually spend a lot of time in the hotel ploughing through the follow up work of my trip and keeping up to date with the goings-on in the UK.

This post is the first in a short series on things my time in China has taught me. It's not intended to be a comprehensive guide on all things China, but I hope it will act as a useful resource for those of you looking to export into China and other countries. This first post will focus on whether China is right for you, and what research you can do before jumping in feet-first.

Titus Learnning - Virgin StartUp

The appeal of China is obvious; the enormous population, the rapid economic growth, the growing middle class and more. However it's not the easiest market to break into, and in order to reap the benefits, there is some serious work to be done. There are a number of great resources in the UK I would recommend to help you decide if China is right for you.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, would be the China Britain Business Council (CBBC). They have a number of offices in the both the UK and China. Ideally you should meet with someone in person or have a call to explain your business model, and listen to their feedback on if, and how, they see your business working in China. The people you’ll be dealing with are experts in China-Britain business relations, and will most likely be either Chinese natives, or have lived there for a significant amount of time. Not only can you speak with a team who will give you invaluable advice, but they also have a number of reports and documents you can digest at your leisure with useful pointers about China - all the way from researching the market, to setting up offices and signing distributor deals.

The second place I would look is the Department for International Trade (DIT), formerly known as UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). They have extremely tight ties with CBBC and you’ll often find a lot of the campaigns are run side by side. DIT has a number of country-specific experts whose job it is to help you with all aspects of exporting. You’ll often find that there are specific experts for particular sectors as well. For example, we have dealt with the EdTech and International Schools specialists. These guys really know their stuff and are very well connected. The main team is based in London and it’s worth the visit to see them. They can also offer a certain amount of financial support for trade missions and other overseas activities. We recently joined their UK-China EdTech Forum.

Finally, I’d recommend looking at trade associations within your sector. You’ll also find these are tightly linked with CBBC and DIT, and between the three of them you’ll very quickly start to paint a picture of whether your business is a good fit for the Chinese market. Trade associations are a great place to meet other companies within your sector - this was invaluable for us to see how companies working with the same target market had managed to get a foothold.

Then there’s of course the research you can do on your own… has another business already established the demand? Is there an ‘easier’ way to get into China by looking at nearby markets such as Hong Kong? Are there any UK-owned companies in a similar field you could partner with? If you have a product, could you start by moving some of your production there? These are only a few ideas but ones that have been successful for my company Titus Learning and others.

Think you’re ready to check out China some more? Sit tight for the next post on what to do next…

Read the second blog here, on the importance of face-to-face meetings in China.


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