There is a world of opportunity out there for Scottish businesses to take advantage of

Global demand for Scottish produce has never been stronger.

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We currently export some of our most famous products to the farthest corners of the globe, many harvested or created from our own abundant natural larder: farmed salmon is the largest food export, with overseas markets worth more than £300 million a year, while we ship an estimated 40 bottles of whisky abroad every second.

In addition to the strong performance of Scottish food and drink, there are also other leading industries enjoying the benefits of selling to international markets, including oil and gas, fuel-linked equipment, renewable energies - not just equipment and technology, but also homegrown skills - chemicals, electronics and instrument engineering, mechanical engineering, textiles and business services.

Almost as long as the list of products finding new homes are the number of countries eager to do business. Scotland's top export markets are the US, Netherlands, France and Germany, while fast growing markets include China, Australia, Japan, India, United Arab Emirates and Russia

Traditional markets are also still performing strongly. With more than £11 billion of exports travelling to countries within the European Union alone, the 28 European member states, with their consumer population of 500 million, offer countless export opportunities for companies in Scotland.

Kirsteen Higgins, Smart Exporter Operations Manager, Scottish Development International, the international arm of Scotland's enterprise agencies, says: "Raising the ambitions of Scottish businesses to think globally is vital. Our role is to help businesses think about international trade as part of their growth.

"There are two main reasons why they should consider exporting - it can help spread their market risk and can help maximise their capacity. We help them to see that it's a natural step to look at the excellent opportunities for their business overseas."

"The competitive advantages of exporting are evident" says Higgins, adding: "At its most simple it can help businesses drive profits. Diversification is important too. Companies who export have a more diverse customer base, they can grow faster and they are less exposed to market risks. They are open to new opportunities in a bigger marketplace."

If entering the global marketplace allows companies to enjoy a much wider customer base, the size of their own operations need not be a hindrance. In fact, SMEs that export are 34% more productive in their first year and 11% more likely to survive.

Higgins believes that how big or small a company might be should have no influence on their ability to enter export markets.

"No it doesn't matter at all," she says. "We work with Scottish companies from all sectors and of all sizes, from very small to very large companies, who have a product or service that they might want to sell overseas."

Working with these burgeoning businesses means talking to them about their international plans, how to get started and how the Smart Exporter programme can help their business. Higgins says: "We will discuss the type of support they need. For example, do they need help researching market opportunities or understanding the import regulations for a particular market?"

It's one thing to have aspirations to enter the export market, another to discover the possibilities available, but how can Scottish businesses be given the confidence that they personally have the capability to secure opportunities to expand into overseas markets?

"By giving the right support just when they need it," says Higgins, "we can help de-risk the entire process and share with companies precisely what's involved through workshops, such as our Preparing to Export programme.

"This involves export training to understand what the right steps are to prepare them to move faster to market - this might mean helping companies to understand the best route to market, whether that's through distributors or online sales.

"We can even help them understand the options of how to get paid from overseas customers, how they can transport their goods to these customers, and how they should consider reviewing their pricing for international markets."

It's having such a detailed and bespoke support mechanism in place that helps so many businesses. And often the first step will be to speak to an adviser.

"We have five experienced export advisers across Scotland," explains Higgins.

"Businesses can chat with them on how to get started.

"We can talk through the next steps - and, through initiatives such as the Preparing to Export programme, give them an understanding of the nuts and bolts of exporting."

As well as the Preparing to Export programme, which is described in more detail on these pages, there is a global network of offices to help Scottish companies take full advantage of export opportunities - and to attract potential foreign direct investment into Scotland.

What advice would Higgins give to businesses that might be thinking of entering the global market but remain unsure of their first step?

"The world is a global marketplace for companies to take advantage of and we can help support international growth ambitions," she says.

"Even if they're only at the thinking stage, we can get in early and provide help and guidance on what the next steps are for their business. It's about seizing the opportunities that exist. Come to us and get the benefits of our experience and impartial advice."