What makes an “Agile Exporter”?

What makes an “Agile Exporter”?

In an ever-changing world the ability of international traders to respond quickly is more important than ever.

Co-operation with customers and suppliers is key to good relationships and sustainability.

If a company can offer flexibility based on their thorough understanding of international processes and procedures it can only enhance the offer and reputation of any company.

Linda Middleton-Jones, International Marketing Strategy, Export Coach & Mentor outlines the key aspects of an Agile Exporter

Sometimes instantaneous decisions and actions are required, and todays traders need to be both proactive and reactive in an increasing technically led global market place. While at times it is necessary to take a pragmatic view of a situation (bearing in mind that diligence and compliance is key), markets can be volatile, so an understanding of classification, tariff and non-tariff barriers is vital.

Across the myriad roles involved in international trade, traders could be working as clerks or in marketing; responsible for logistics, strategy or packing. They could be trainers, consultants, brokers or one of the hundred and one other roles associated with getting goods and services to other markets.  Without exception those traders need to be adaptable, knowledgeable and creative.  They must follow the shifts in trading patterns and agreements, watch how Trade Wars develop, keep up to date with regulations and most importantly in 2019, understand the implications of leaving a Free Trade Agreement!

Given the considerable variables, how can a company that is exporting or importing aspire to be the best it can be?  Whilst achieving a recognised standard, whether they be for Investors for People, ISO, AEO, AE or any other regulation or standard, gives a company the status and recognition of best practice, being Agile means something else, it means having the means by which to respond quickly, correctly and with certainty.  It means that a company is more dynamic, more connected and has the ability to meet the demands and challenges of a global business environment.

By combining experience, knowledge and an ability to act quickly and responsibly the chances of success are much improved.

In identifying the salient attributes of an Agile International trader, several important aspects should be addressed:

Finance and cash flow

Clearly financial resource is important, ROI for any international campaign can take some time.  Making sure that the right budget is in place and understanding the implications of foreign exchange should be a priority for a company intent on extending into overseas markets.

Skills base

Keeping and maintaining the skills base within a company is incredibly important.  Official sources give that 150,000 companies who have been selling to Europe have never had to deal with Export Documentation before.  That is a huge worry and smart companies have been upskilling their employees though courses and training. 

Attitude, ownership and culture

Ownership and culture and can-do attitude should be driven by the leader of a company.  By communicating the corporate vision and engaging employees, an effective action plan could be driven by the whole business. Many companies sadly operate through silo ‘s where each department functions and reports separately. Consequently, information and team development are restricted to those deemed necessary to include, inhibiting dynamic progression and growth.

Strategic Vision

Knowing where a company is going through a well thought out Business and Export plan is crucial to understanding progress and growth. Understanding what success looks like will enable a company to take the logical steps to achieve those aims. Strategic vision will define the travel between a current state map though to a future state together with the supporting functions needed to support that aim.


Companies involved in International Trade need to be resilient, persistent and situation aware.  Risks inherent in International Trade have been minimised through Incoterms 2010 formulated by the International Chamber of Commerce and, trading rules defined by the World Trade Organisation remove many of the macro risks.  On a micro level, traders need to ensure that due diligence removes risks that could impact on resilience. 

Traders should reflect that success in export and import can take time as mentioned above so following an export/import led growth plan will need considerable investment and usually, patience.


Whoever is involved in the export/import function will know that it is impossible to know everything about international trade.  Whether the processes and procedures are well established or relatively know there will be occasions when it is necessary to ask advice from others.  The chain of advice and support may be short or long, but usually someone else will be called to help. 

Of course, networking with fellow traders can build up your network of ‘friends’ to ask when a solution is needed Whilst traders know what they know, and in most cases know what they don’t, the real challenge is always the things they don’t know that they don’t know – until someone asks!

Clearly every international company has its own processes and procedures, has dedicated staff and a good customer and supplier base.  In striving to be the best they can be, perhaps Agile Exporting will bring its own rewards, give an extra sparkle and make a company definitely ‘one to watch’.

Linda Middleton-Jones is International Marketing Strategy, Export Coach & Mentor and Managing Director of International Trade Matters Ltd

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