- Support of companies' growth
- Support of internationalisation
- Support of SMEs
Open To Export
Open To Export
SMEs wishing to expand their sales abroad. These companies are either new to the export business or have the intention to export. According to the latest survey (London Economics, 2013), 68% of the Open To Export (OTE) users are micro firms (with fewer than 10 employees), of which 25% are active users of the OTE website and visit it at least once a week. The second largest group is comprised of small firms, and account for 20% of the total users, of which 15% are active users.
The process for businesses to apply is very simple and everything is conducted online. Enterprises must sign up for the website to use the online tool by providing details of the company such as name, address, website, number of employees, turnover, sector, contact details (that is, phone/email), or to engage in questions and answers and discussion, and register to webinars which they plan to attend. All services are free of charge. Enterprises will commit to follow the terms and conditions of subscription indicated by OTE. Even though OTE aims to target small and medium sized firms, they do not exclude large firms if they would like to subscribe.
Open To Export's objectives are to help SMEs to expand their markets abroad, update information, enrich networking, develop export plans, and enhance the company image and reputation. The main type of the supported international activities is export, especially to newcomers who seek advice for the export procedure or how to launch their products to a new market.
As an online support tool, OTE delivers its services through its website. There are no intermediaries involved in delivering the measure. Once the entrepreneur approaches the website for information or developing their ‘export action plan’, the consultants and advisors will respond and provide them support when needed. The consultants and advisors are volunteers who have extensive experience in dealing with information regarding exporting and are often associated with government agencies such as the Department for International Trade (DIT), Institute of Education (IOE), UK Export Finance (UKEF) and the Federation of Small Businesses. They are often recruited by Community Interest Companies (CIC) or engaged in the OTE’s networks. They provide any relevant information regarding exporting/importing process such as documentation, administration, import/export taxation, export regulations, foreign market opportunities, events, international exhibition, news, networking opportunities, access to resources, any useful contacts (lawyers, commercial banks, freight forwarding companies), and information about any available supporting schemes from regional/national and European levels. The consultation process is mainly conducted on the Q&A platform of the OTE website.
- National funds
Department for International Trade (DIT), UK Export Finance (UKEF)
Employers' or employees' organisations
Federation of Small Businesses
Community Interest Companies (CIC); Institute of Education (IOE)
According to the team manager, the number of participating firms has steadily increased from 6,194 in 2012 to 14,000 in 2017.
In terms of usage, on average, there are 17,000 unique visits a month from 2016 to 2017. In addition, the interviewee emphasised that 20,000 people consumed the core content of the OTE (such as Export Action Plan and Q&A platform) for a period of longer than two minutes, 3,109 attended their webinars and 160 people completed the business planning tool.
An evaluation report was published in 2015 (authored 2013), and there has been no futher evaluation of the service.
According to the evaluation report of OTE:
- any firm can approach OTE easily, the programme provides free online services and advice to exporting SMEs with a very simple and fast process;
- it provides support via its website content and planning tools to enable newcomers to engage in the process during their exporting journey;
- everything is conducted online, which saves time and costs for both beneficiaries and administrators;
- the advisors’ responses are quite fast, taking normally one to two working days;
- what makes OTE innovative is its combination of both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ aspects, by complementing its information and advice services with financial support in terms of prizes and awards.
OTE is not managed directly by the DIT, but by an independent not-for-profit organisation. There is lack of collaboration between OTE and the funder on how to operate and implement the programme. This may lead to the differences between the DIT and the CIC’s expectations on how to do and what to do to achieve their goals.
OTE’s limited capacity in managing the programme: the OTE team consists of three people managing all aspects of its activities, which constrains their capacity to offer more products and services and the speed of response.