Scottish Development International's Preparing to Export programme is the first stepping stone for any company wishing to enter the world of global commerce.

Funded by Smart Exporter, it helps businesses to successfully prepare for entering new markets or expand existing customer bases.

In the past three years alone, more than 400 companies from all across Scotland have benefitted from this programme, which aims to develop key business skills.

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There are three levels of the programme available, all of which are free to participants: introductory, intermediate and advanced. This is a group programme, for six to 10 companies, with the content and training facilitated by an experienced international trade consultant alongside Scottish Development International.

The introductory programme is held over two days and is aimed specifically at companies and individuals who are new to exporting.

Among the key areas covered on day one are market analysis and market entry, while day two's focus is on international finance, contractual and logistics issues.

The main benefits include a better understanding of exporting and opportunities in international markets, developing a practical export plan and gaining the skills and confidence to succeed.

The intermediate programme, as you would expect, is more intensive - lasting six days, with a varied range of topics, such as export market identification, managing the export channel and digital marketing strategy - and is geared towards Scottish businesses who already have some experience in international trade.

As well as gaining an increased awareness of the opportunities available, participants will also gain vital skills such as understanding how market research can help sales strategies and how to develop the company's export business model.

Finally, the advanced programme caters for the more experienced exporters.

Participants will be aiming to learn how to further develop their export capabilities and extend their global business reach.

Integral to the programme is the chance to meet and share knowledge and experiences with a group of like-minded exporters.

As with both the introductory and intermediate programmes, the advanced programme culminates in the development of a robust action plan for moving forward.

The Smart Exporter programme has helped more than 3000 Scottish companies progress their international ambitions.

From planning strategy and building export skills to finding new markets and setting up overseas, Smart Exporter can help whatever your business size or sector.

To learn more about Smart Exporter and how to access the services, knowledge, expertise and networks to support your business, visit