Small businesses have been hardest hit by the recession, often relying on local demand for their goods and services. While these organisations are the backbone of our economy, in order to grow, the cross-border market should be considered as their first natural export prospect and they need to have a clear export strategy in place to take advantage of this opportunity. InterTradeIrelandâs Elevate programme, launched in 2011, was specifically designed to help local micro-enterprises identify and develop cross-border sales opportunities.Â
50 companies were supported through the initial Elevate phase and a recent evaluation of these small businesses over a six month period showed that it provided them with a total net benefit of more than Â£500,000. It is anticipated that these companies will now go on to further develop their export capability and experience an even greater benefit over the next few years.
One such company is Lisburn-based Play Services Ireland Ltd which provides inspections and fully accredited training to help ensure the safety of playground equipment, Mel Campbell, managing director has taken part in the InterTradeIreland Elevate programme and outlined his experience.
Mel said: âAfter two years of developing and growing the company and client-base in Northern Ireland, we felt that we were ready to expand our services to new markets. The Republic of Ireland market was ideal due to the ease of access and geographical closeness.
âHowever, as a micro-business, resources are obviously limited and so it is difficult to find the time to do the work, as well as trying to source new business in a relatively new location. The Elevate programme allowed me to benefit from the support and knowledge of an experienced consultant who brought fresh ideas into the company and worked with us to put together a long-term cross-border sales plan that has helped us win new clients.Â
âSince participating in the Elevate programme, cross-border business has doubled and we have taken on two more employees as a direct result. It has also allowed us to grow at a much quicker pace than we anticipated - what we achieved in six months probably would have taken five years without InterTradeIrelandâs support. I also now feel that I am better equipped to exploit the opportunities presented trading on all-island basis and would definitely recommend the Elevate programme to other micro-businesses. It is the perfect opportunity to open up the cross-border market and increase sales and turnover.â
Now into its third year, InterTradeIreland has already helped 90 small businesses kick-start their cross-border trading and get on the ladder to successful exporting through the Elevate programme and is now looking for 50 additional small businesses to participate in the next phase. The initiative which is fully funded by InterTradeIreland, provides access to and assistance from an approved marketing expert up to the value of Â£5,000.
Participating small businesses can choose from a list of more than 100 experienced industry specialists who can then help them to identify sales leads in the Republic of Ireland, negotiate deals, identify market research requirements and offer advice on the development of marketing materials.
Launching the next phase of the Elevate programme, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster commented:
âNorthern Ireland's economy is particularly reliant on small and micro-businesses and the development of these companies is vital to help the economy grow. Many of these enterprises offer great products or services but need additional resources to help them maximise their potential and the initial phases have shown that Elevate does just that.
âI welcome the continuation of InterTradeIrelandâs Elevate Programme as it is tailored specifically to the needs of small businesses and helps them to develop a structured and strategic approach to exporting.Â It is now more important than ever that small businesses look to identify new markets and this programme provides the perfect opportunity for them to become export ready.â
Margaret Hearty, Director of Programmes and Business Services for InterTradeIreland explained:
âAs 96% of businesses on the island are micro-enterprises, it is essential that they receive the support they require to expand and flourish.
âWe developed this programme directly as a response to feedback from these small businesses. This demand was backed up by extensive research undertaken through the InterTradeIreland Quarterly Business Monitor which revealed that small enterprises s which are not exporting have been hit hardest by the recession.
âWe designed a programme which helped to combat the challenges that small businesses face. For example, one that didnât require them to contribute financially as we knew cashflow was an issue, and a programme that provided them with an independent look at their business to help them identify where they can fit into new markets. Â It is our aim to facilitate trade and business growth across the island and we believe that participation in Elevate creates an environment which makes it easier for small organisationto do business in the opposite jurisdiction.
âThe cross-border market is an often an underutilised but logical first step to wider export markets, giving experience of varied legislation and working with a different currency but has the comfort of being more accessible.Â Once mastered this makes looking at European markets a more realistic prospect.â
Margaret concluded: âWe have had a great response to the first two phases of the Elevate programme and as such we anticipate that the new places offered in this phase will be allocated very quickly, especially as there is no financial cost to small businesses to take part. The application process is very simple and I would urge all interested small businesses with less than Â£1million turnover to register their interest and apply as soon as possible.â
For more information on the Elevate programme, including eligibility criteria visit www.intertradeireland.com/elevate.