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For Kiwi firms looking to grow their business offshore there is no shortage of courses and experts to help them speed up the process.

Diane Hurford, founder of Brolly Sheets, gets asked this question at least once a month by business newbies in the country: how does one set up an ABN (Australian Business Number) for doing business across the Tasman?
According to Hurford, this is just one of the countless learning curves a novice exporter needs to navigate when he or she enters new countries or tries an untested market. This information may be already available yet it is often not easy to locate – especially for someone not knowing where to search.
The path to global markets is often steep and treacherous. Hurford herself is still on an exploratory path, figuring out how to best conquer the UK and US markets for the waterproof bedding covers she currently exports.
Many of Hurford’s exporting skills were learnt the hard way – sometimes by trial and error, others by weaning information through the grapevine, through networking and searching on the Internet.
Recently, she sat down for a four-hour strategic planning session with Deloitte’s to build the blueprint for her business for the next 12 months. “It means taking a day out of your business to focus on strategic planning. Many people don’t know you can get help in this area.”
Hurford has also, on another occasion, taken time out to attend a short course on doing business in China. She has also found networking with other business women helpful.
Through Auckland Tourism, Events, and Economic Development (ATEED), she found out that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) provide funding for building business capability.
Learning how to export, Hurford says, can be made less challenging once you have someone who can show you the basics and get you connected to an informed network.
Several organisations in the country are all poised to provide exporter education. These include NZTE, ATEED, Business New Zealand, The Employers & Manufacturers Association, and the ICEHOUSE, who either run courses themselves or hook up with education providers to help provide exporters with the skills and knowledge needed.
Some courses are basic, aimed at new exporters; others are more advanced; while at the highest level the focus is on helping exporters go global through highly targeted executive programmes.
The level of New Zealand’s exports (of goods and services) has stayed the same over the past two decades, at about 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The country’s success is tied to how fast it can grow exports, and this is where training and education has an important role to play.

Skills gap
As far back as 2006, Murray Painter and business partner Mark Carrington saw the growing knowledge gap among younger entrepreneurs – most lacked the required skills to succeed at growing their business overseas. The two co-founded The Export Academy based in Hawkes Bay to provide specific knowledge for exporting.
Painter says as the entrepreneurs of the 1960s and 1970s retired, the younger crop of business people coming through the pipeline lacked export-specific knowledge. Companies that were large enough to employ specialists tended to, Painter adds, build silos of specialists.
The Export Academy’s vision is to build a programme that can be tailored to those keen to pursue the path of exporting, or already in the business but need new skills.
At The Export Academy, which has the tick of the NZ Qualifications Authority, students can enrol in correspondence courses to gain a certificate (one-year course) or a diploma (two-year course) in Export Enterprise; or a Bachelor in Exporting (three years). Fees are pegged at $12,500 per annum.
The Academy has managed to enrol students for its short courses but not for its Bachelor course. Painter says the downturn in the economy has made it difficult to attract companies – already struggling with cost cutting imperatives – to spend $12,500 per year for an employee to do the programmes offered.

Global from day one
At the Palmerston North-based NZ School of Export (NZSOE) those wanting a certificate or diploma of international trade can do so by distance learning. The school is accredited by the Association of Trade Training and Organisations (IATTO), a global body providing endorsement for international trade training and certification.
Dr Romuald Rudzki, director and co-founder of the NZSOE says exporters can no longer afford not to aspire for global business from day one. Niche exporters, particularly, need to move beyond the local market to grow.
“Clearly, as a country, we have to think big. To succeed, we have to think ‘we are global’ from the word go. This means having to deal with countries over different time zones. For some, it means growing very large very quickly in their niche,” Dr Rudzki says.
Each exporter has a different need in terms of his or her skill development. Dr Rudzki is keen to help every individual find something that is specific to the individual’s industry and need. “We have to tailor-make solutions for them (in meeting skills),” he adds.
There is a wide range of students coming through the NZSOE, Dr Rudzki says. They range from those who already have a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) to those who have never set foot overseas.
Dean Pan, sales manager (China) for New Image International, a company specialising in colostrum and value-added dairy product manufacturing, completed a Diploma in International Trade with the NZSOE. He found the education helped with improving his knowledge of tools and models for export development, specifically new market entry strategies. The programme also offered him the opportunity to develop networks with other passionate exporters willing to share their international trade knowledge.
Pan says the course’s flexibility enabled him to study at his own pace and helped him refine his thoughts on exporting out of a small country but competing on a global and sustainable level.
Christopher Boys who founded Katabolt in a joint venture with The ICEHOUSE, says a “phenomenal” amount needs to be done still in New Zealand to help exporters reach the global market.
After working overseas for over a decade, he was involved in helping start-ups through angel investing and mentoring when he saw the need to provide a structured approach to help companies reach customers overseas.
Exporters who seek help from Katabolt are put through a market validation phase to find out if there is indeed a market for their product or service out there; whether the product will be suitable and needs modification for a market; and how to get the product across using the right distribution channels.
“We work with high growth companies to help them fast-track their growth. We are all about speed (in getting to markets),” Boys says.
Katabolt provides those who walk through its doors access to a ready network of 200 associates across the world who can help nudge them into the right direction in terms of gaining a toehold in target markets.

NZTE’s role
The best place to begin for someone without any idea of who to talk to is to try NZTE which has, together with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, put in place a network of 14 regional business partners who can help businesses needing assistance.
The NZTE’s regional business partners help exporters through not only providing assessment of his/her business needs but also funding – through the NZTE’s Capability Development vouchers which can be used to partly fund the cost of acquiring specific skills needed to help them grow exports.
Peter Bull, NZTE’s director Better Business Services, notes that the current model of delivering exporter education enables local service providers and economic development agencies to meet localised needs.
The seasoned business person who has used a service before should have no problems finding help. However, a business start-up would need to spend some time sifting through the Internet or through contacts to find out what is available, Bull adds.
“Should we rationalise this? What I would say is, it is (the current service) driven by different needs. Over time these will become the local sources of expertise,” he says.
Through these regional partners exporters throughout the country can tap into 300 service providers offering some 3,000 courses to help them build a better exporting company, Bull notes. As at February, more than 1,500 companies have contacted NZTE’s regional business partners and 1,000 have taken advantage of the business capability vouchers, which provide 50 percent funding for the education.

Global dreams
For the big players, that is companies already exporting over $20 million or so and has demonstrated potential for high growth, the University of Auckland’s Business School runs a Global Executive Leadership programme that has a highly focused 12-month programme to help a company achieve its business goals or plans. The programme had its first batch of “graduates” in March.
For most small businesses, finding the right education or help is still a tricky business. Brolly Sheets’ Diane Hurford, for instance, says every market presents a different challenge. She would like to see the development of clusters to help link together similar industries for knowledge sharing.
Practical information, like how to set up an ABN (Australia business number), may be available out there but not easily located, she says. “Knowledge about marketing, for example, how to get people to come to your website is also something that every small exporter needs
to know.”
Hurford, through her experience at Brolly Sheets, is finding that in the US working with a logistics company can help her reach customers in North America without the costs of setting up a physical office there.  
The UK, another market that Brolly Sheets is trying to build, presents its unique challenge. “The UK is a really segmented market; it is a totally different market,” says Hurford. “We found that print advertising didn’t really work for us in that market. We wasted money on print advertising which didn’t work.”
She would readily share that knowledge with someone going down that same track, she says.
“If someone rings and asks for advice, I am more than happy to share
my knowledge.”
As a company that ranked 24th in Deloitte’s Fast 50 in 2011, Brolly Sheets faces the normal growing pains of a fast-growing business trying to swallow as big a market as it can take. “We have 4.5 staff basically. We are trying to manage that (the growth) with the resources we have.”
Katabolt’s Christopher Boys, has a final reminder for exporters: “The biggest message I try to get out is this: New Zealand businesses have to ask for help. This No 8 wire mentality of ‘I’ll do it myself’ slows down your potential for global growth.”