To say Kiwi exporters have seen some challenges over the past 12 months would be an understatement. The impact of COVID-19 has been so all encompassing it can be easy to forget the various international trade disputes that marked 2019, or the dramatic ups and downs of the world’s currencies that accompanied them. Hardly the sort of stable environment a business would hope for just as they decide to start ramping up their product exporting, but that’s exactly where professional services and product export operation OnlyFromNZ found themselves earlier this year.
“What a great time to focus solely on export when you can no longer travel internationally,” says Director Lesley Kennedy. “It was nerve wracking. Things went quiet, even the projects that were already underway, and we found ourselves wondering ‘how are we going to tackle this?’”
Lesley Kennedy and Paul Sinclair have been exporting professional services for over a decade.
As their success grew, they began partnering with and advising local businesses, eventually being engaged in 2017 by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to run their Export Essentials training programmes supporting kiwi businesses to export internationally. Last year, the pair launched OnlyFromNZ, with the intention of exporting products themselves, and the products of their partners, alongside their advisory and professional services.
“In the past, I would be on a plane three to four times a year,” says Kennedy. “We can’t do that now. We must think differently about how we maintain those relationships so we can keep growing and maintaining the export space. One of the challenges of any exporter is meeting the right distributor or the right partner in country to be able to sell your products. We’re building a B2B online marketplace so we can help NZ exporters get those intros and actually sell their product overseas without leaving the country.”
Even in uncertain times such as these, Kennedy notes that New Zealand has a lot of advantages some businesses take for granted. If our exporters miss these, there is money being left on the table.
“Everywhere you go, the New Zealand brand is really high trust. We have quality and transparency. We can leverage our isolation, and the biosecurity regulation and laws that go with that. Our systems are flexible and creative and not so burdened with bureaucracy as some of the other largest nations, as much as we might think they are sometimes. These statements can get us to the table before others.”
“On the flipside, we do face some disadvantages. A lot of that comes down to attitude, particularly in how we go after business. The world is so much more competitive than we are in New Zealand, and we often don’t place enough urgency on chasing new business. If you’re going to wait 12 hours, or a week before you respond, forget it. Someone has already claimed it.”
Kennedy had further advice for kiwi companies looking to grow internationally.
“We underestimate the value of branding; it needs to be fit for the market. Working with a honey producer here, we completely overhauled their branding to suit the market they were exporting to, and that saw them improve their returns.”
“Companies also don’t look to enough markets. They look to Australia, because it’s close and there is a perception that it’s like us, or China and the US for their size, but very few companies we come across look to all of the other countries in the world where we could export really well, with potentially better margins and a better competitive advantage.”
Kennedy is speaking from experience on that last point. Since 2009, she and Sinclair have been exporting professional services to the Middle East, an area not often thought of first for export opportunities.
“We were new, a novelty, and people wanted to work with us. Initially, we weren’t sure if we’d have much to offer, but we’re closer in many ways to those countries than you’d think. A similar size and structure when it came to populations, their government systems were quite young and innovative, and they’re relationship focused, thinking of partnerships in the medium and long term. The more we got to know the area, the more it made sense.”
Her understanding of the opportunities and challenges, alongside the team’s previously established relationships, means Kennedy is confident moving forward. OnlyFromNZ want to bring others along with them, because the world is changing. Things won’t just return to the way they were.
“We have to be flexible and responsive and have a can-do and will-do attitude. It will be different. It will be harder. Exporting has never been easy anyway. But if you’re open to the changes, you look for the opportunities and you work hard at it, you will be successful.”
If you’re interested in exporting and keen to hear more from companies like OnlyfromNZ (a Wellington based consultancy) be sure to come along to ‘From Aotearoa to the World’, hosted by ExportNZ, Wellington and ASB. Learn more here.