Viewed from the window of a plane, there’s always a special moment of excitement and promise for even the most seasoned traveller when the sun breaks through the cloud base and illuminates the horizon of a new country.

Back on the ground, the world is, as Maeve Gillies says, a small place. In an age in which globalisation is an inescapable mantra, that might sound like a relatively simple observation – but she’s speaking with a high degree of insight and experience as to why every Scottish-based company, regardless of size, product or service and with the ambition to grow its business should be looking beyond the domestic marketplace.

The Scottish-American jeweller, designer and entrepreneur has achieved international recognition for her award-winning fine jewellery brand MaeVona, which she launched in New York City in 2005 and which is sold online and through leading independent retail stores across the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. 

Since 2008 she has also been a GlobalScot, part of a worldwide network of entrepreneurial business leaders across the globe, advising and supporting Scotland’s most ambitious high-growth creative companies. Maeve joined the network because she has “always been very passionate about creative Scottish businesses and their products and services – and because their potential is incredibly powerful on the world stage”.

And the world in 2018, she adds, is extremely receptive to what Scotland can offer. “People regard Scots as reliable and trustworthy, entrepreneurial, innovative and cultured – in general, the attitude to Scotland in the US and in other countries is overwhelmingly positive.”

HeraldScotland:

Bright spark Maeve Gillies is a GlobalScot, sharing her expertise on international marketing with other entrepreneurs

So, if Scotland is held in such high regard abroad, why are many motivated, successful companies who are committed to growth still not exporting – or just doing so in a “passive” way, with just a few per cent of their turnover coming from exports? Admittedly, more of them are now thinking about the possibilities, about new trade agreements with the EU and other markets, noticing the tsunami of export activity that has roared across the globe in recent decades. Emerging economies now account for 80 per cent of world economic growth – there are 2.5 billion potential customers in India and China alone, with China itself on the brink of becoming the world’s pre-eminent economy.

Of course, these Scottish companies see the opportunities – even the imperative – to export but remain unwilling to commit in uncertain times and yes, the political and economic climate in Europe seems daunting. 
But life goes on.

Many small to medium-sized companies – ranging from Brewdog, whose spectacular growth has seen it grow beyond markets in Europe and the US to Japan and Brazil, to babywear company Cheeky Chompers which has sold its products to the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and now China within five years of launching – prove that with innovative products or services, a sound business plan and the best support and advice the results can be transformational.

Maeve Gillies, a self-confessed overachiever (internationally recognised jewellery designer – the MaeVona brand is among the most sought-after engagement ring lines in the US – clarsach player, and designer of a bottle for Highland Park’s oldest whisky to date) says that for Scottish companies with confidence and ambition, there’s a wealth of valuable advice available to help them take their products and services to the global marketplace – much of it available from Scottish Enterprise (SE). 

As a GlobalScot, last month she was speaking at one of SE’s export bootcamps, which are designed to give companies essential information for trading internationally and includes developing an export plan during the course of the workshops. 

“The businesses in the room had planning to do and the logistics of an export strategy to learn,” she says. “Where I think our company is most useful here is on the digital side because I’m responsible for the company’s social media and digital advertising. This technology is a tremendous benefit in identifying where your customers are and how you can reach them – and there are lots of useful shortcuts you can utilise.”

With UK Government figures showing that in 2015 only 64 per cent of UK SMEs had a website (though this will undoubtedly have risen since then) there is obviously the need for many more to grasp the sheer pace of technological progress and to avoid being left behind as nimbler, more tech-savvy businesses threaten to steal a huge march on them. 

“Digital has changed the whole thrust of the marketplace in the past 15 years, proof that you can reach a market anywhere. The more personal your story, the more unique your product or service and the more effort you put into it, the more people appreciate it,” says Maeve.

“With each successive wave of technology, the overseas consumer is becoming easier to reach. Several years ago it was Google Adwords for companies with a small rather than a multi-million marketing budget.

Then there was the advent of Facebook Ads – and the question of how to geotarget specific demographics. If you can figure out what these companies are offering you – and what they are doing with these immense amounts of data – your business can use that to huge advantage.”

When you are reaching out to new markets, she adds, even something as simple as a free service like Google Translate now allows you to consider countries you would never have dreamed of before – because you don’t speak the language. “Now you really have to ask yourself ‘why not do this?’. It will not always be straightforward – but it certainly makes it possible.”

For companies looking at the possibilities of exporting, Maeve and many others believe that these are unparalleled – if they engage positively now. “There is huge potential beyond the usual suspects and Scotland is very well placed to attract attention in these markets. So many of the countries that we would like to sell to have a real interest in the heritage of Scotland. With our Scottish-themed engagement rings, people who discover them are so passionate about our heritage that they now think: ‘Which MaeVona product will I buy?’ rather than ‘Will I buy?’”

The dynamics of the export market are changing – and SMEs now have an unprecedented chance to punch above their weight by adopting a global mindset, forging partnerships overseas and responding swiftly to market needs. Scottish Enterprise points out that as developing nations seek to compete on their own terms smaller companies can take on a lead role in driving trade, with digital disruption levelling the competitive playing field between them and larger firms.

“There is no question that no matter what size of business you have there’s more of an even playing field for small and medium-sized businesses today compared to a large business, says Maeve. “If you use your smaller budget to get to a new market in a smart way you can reach the same people as the guy with a million-dollar budget – so that creates a totally different opportunity.”

For more information on export support and the GlobalScot network visit: scottish-enterprise.com/export