William Hague’s recent call to British business leaders to ‘stop complaining’, ‘work harder’, and ‘get on a plane’ to find growth opportunities has angered some business leaders.

But an increasing number of UK retailers are discovering new markets abroad without getting on a plane. E-commerce, adapted websites and well-executed international internet marketing programmes are seeing UK business selling to Europe and beyond while keeping the business firmly rooted in home soil.

We wanted to see what the appetite is among our own retail clients (all based in the UK) to develop new markets. When we surveyed them, almost one third said that that over half of their online business already comes from outside the UK.

We weren’t surprised that 22% expect Asia to be their main growth area, but more surprising is that despite economic conditions, 40% expect Europe to be a ‘fast growth’ market in the next year. 67% cited northern Europe as a target market, and 52% are targeting southern European markets.

Which international markets will you be targeting in the next 1-2 years? 

Social media marketing combined with adapted e-commerce sites are clear drivers of this approach to international growth. No longer do you need a regional office, distribution centres or physical stores to sell outside of the home market.

Event traditional methods of PR and marketing are showing themselves to be less popular among than creating a direct connection with the consumer via social media. The top two marketing tools for growth are social media and a localised e-commerce site and the main barriers to international growth were cited as: insufficient knowledge about local cultures, language, local finance arrangements and local customs.

Don’t assume your audience want to talk to you in English

Your e-commerce operation might be based in the UK but you should talk to your audience in their own language. This is incredibly important on social channels, where one-to-one interaction is the basis for good communications. 

Think locally to act socially

Facebook and Twitter are important, but there are other channels at work too. VKontakte is currently the most popular social network in Russia (it has 100 million active users), whereas China’s big networks are Weibo and Renren. Be where your customers are.

Local knowledge is vital

in making the right kind of impression and developing a good reputation locally. Cultural points of reference will vary.

Something which would be applauded in the US may cause a storm of criticism in the UAE (as Puma found to its cost when it put a UAE flag on a limited edition shoe last year). Hire in local knowledge and native speakers to get these references right.

Use transcreation 

The art of conveying a message in another language, rather than relying on a direct translation – to develop a localised website, brand and even content for branded social network presences.

This helps to pick up cultural nuances, and create the sense that the brand belongs in that region, and that the business understands what local customers expect and want from them.

If you sell in another language, offer customer service in that language

If you’re asking a customer to buy from a localised e-commerce site, they’ll expect to deal with you in their own language.  

Any examples of companies doing this well? We’d love to hear.