How do I raise funds to keep my export drive going?
Q: My business is turning over close to €1m and we started to export approximately one year ago which has become quite successful. It has become evident to me that I will have to raise significant funds to expand and I am not quite sure how to go about this.
A: Well done on the growth and in particular the export element. Sales volume is generally driven by population and sometimes to get really strong sales you have to look at overseas markets where populations can be much larger.
While there are lots of traditional sources you should be talking with like banks, etc, I would advise that you first engage with Enterprise Ireland if you don't have a relationship with it already. Its focus is on upskilling your business, with particular emphasis on the export market, and it has great supports and experts it can assign to your business to help you.
A lot of the work that Enterprise Ireland does is helping companies to finance growth and you may find it directs you to some of the investor networks which are in the marketplace like the Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN), which is a group of people who have said they are willing to invest money in specific Irish sectors.
Many of the investors will focus investment on one or two sectors they know well and might be able to bring expertise to the company too. In the right circumstances, Enterprise Ireland may be able to provide additional assistance alongside your investor, but that depends on many factors and particularly, your eligibility for support.
Most importantly, neither a private investor nor any state agency will consider your business for support unless you have a robust business plan and a clear vision of where you want to take your business operation. So first you need to get to work on this so your initial interaction with any state agency is professional and they understand the opportunity which exists in your business. That will be your first step to getting buy-in from anyone to support your business.
Q: I have attended a few conferences and industry seminars recently and haven't been hearing anything new. I am also finding I am not getting a huge amount of inspiration from trade magazines I subscribe to. Are there any recommendations you can make?
A: It can be difficult to find stimulating new ideas and I applaud you for recognising it is something that any business should have high on its priority list if you want to continue to evolve.
I have travelled the world extensively and I have been fortunate enough to attend conferences and seminars and I don't think I have ever come away from one with nothing. There is always a nugget buried somewhere.
I have found on occasion that those learnings were not as obvious as one might think and I had to dig a little deeper to find ideas I could implement. There is a great quote from Thomas A Edison that says "Opportunity is missed by many because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." In other words, you must be prepared to dig beneath the surface and sometimes question your own views if the innovation is not always apparent.
I have also often found when attending conferences and seminars that the real learnings come from the person you are sitting beside or the person you share a coffee break with.
I always encourage businesses, when they make a contact at an event like this, to grab hold of the other person's contact details and try and foster ongoing contact so that you can share information and learnings on a more long-term basis.
Finally, I have found visiting another region, whether it is another city or another country, hugely beneficial. Head off for a day or two and look at other businesses in your industry in operation and very often the inspiration becomes apparent at this coalface level.
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