For strategic growth, businesses need to think global. That’s where the market lies, and importantly, where the competition is. In boardrooms across the country, internationalisation must be on the agenda.

Scotland is doing fantastically well in growing our international offering in food and drink, and this will continue, but all businesses should be searching for international opportunities and turning them into successful ventures. From day one, an international market is there, at the touch of a button.

A post-Brexit report from DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Centre) showed that 27% of British businesses are looking to expand overseas, principally to unlock access to new markets and new talent pools. Yet, Scottish exporting is still limited to quite a small number of companies - less than 10%, and in reality, this probably equates to less than a hundred of the bigger Scottish businesses. So, we have potential – particularly if we think beyond whisky and financial services.

At last years’ inaugural Scottish International Week, business leaders accessed invaluable advice and direction from those who have done (and are doing) it. This month, SIW is back, showcasing more speakers and expertise in events all over Scotland. But, the key question remains: what are the most important areas to take into consideration when planning to internationalise?

Expanding into foreign markets requires extensive planning, management and financial considerations; but diligence and preparation can lead to success.

First, it is important to identify the correct market for your expansion. Ensure you adequately research the market and business conditions in the chosen country – is your brand going to translate verbally and culturally, and is there an audience?

Spending time in the country before deciding whether it is the most appropriate avenue for your product or service allows you to judge the market conditions. If there are no competitors in the space, it may be a good thing. It could mean you have the advantage of being first to market, however it could also be an indicator that there is a reason to avoid trading in that area.

Visiting the country and seeking the support of commerce groups, consulates or other business organisations may be a useful way facilitate introductions to relevant people. Many IoD members operate across the world, so we encourage members to utilise the network to gain insight.

This ‘boots on the ground’ approach also allows valuable cultural insight to be taken on board. For example, in the Middle East, there is little difference between personal and work relationships. You must gain the trust of an individual and socialise with them before discussing business, so it requires an investment of time, which may need to be factored in to your plans.

It is also wise to invest in a legal and financial guidance to support your expansion – there can be high costs associated with working across multiple currencies. Foreign transaction fees, receiving fees, and exchange rate fluctuations can all be expensive, so seek guidance on programs that streamline this activity. The same consideration must be given to the legal aspect of foreign regulations, licensing and standards, tax implications and business laws.

Being from Scotland also has a unique advantage. ‘Team Scotland’ is welcomed all over the world, and can offer competitive distinction. In many cases “Made in Scotland” is a seal of approval in international markets – and I’ve always found it’s a real icebreaker.

Scottish businesses have a long heritage of getting out into the world, yet in this age of globalisation and real-time communication, there still seems to be a reluctance. International politics have perhaps created a climate that puts us off. But this uncertainty is exactly why we need to look for new markets with even more determination and urgency. Never has there been a more desperate need to identify new opportunities for Scotland’s goods and services.

Scots have clearly demonstrated their capabilities internationally for years, through all sorts of political upheaval. Heading across the seas to make our fortunes isn’t new. Sadly, those businesses that are disregarding international trading as ‘not for them’ are missing out on an exciting and lucrative period in their growth and development. Exporting is for everyone!

David Watt is executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland.

IoD Scotland international week takes place from Monday 17th to Friday 21st of September, with events running all over the country. Details of events can be found at