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Exemplas helps SMEs secure export wins worth £7.5bn over the last 5 years

A vibrant, healthy exporting market is critical for improving UK productivity and stimulating economic growth. For the businesses involved it can help diversify their customer base, increase profits and build resilience, while at the same time boosting local communities through job and wealth creation.

While the benefits of exporting are clear, for SMEs without in-house knowledge or dedicated resources, the process can be daunting.

In 2007, Exemplas was first awarded a public sector contract to deliver export advisory services and help companies overcome barriers to exporting. The services covered two regions: Yorkshire and the Humber, and the East of England. The aim was to target first-time potential exporters, along with more established exporters looking to break into new markets.

As a subsidiary of the University of Hertfordshire, Exemplas adheres to the same rigorous approach to procurement, governance and contract management as its owner. This provenance, alongside an outstanding track record of delivering public sector contracts, gave our funding partner confidence in our ability to run the advisory services on their behalf.

An expert team

At the heart of our service was a dedicated team of international trade advisers. These highly driven subject-matter experts with sector, market and functional knowledge sourced SMEs with exporting potential. Then, where appropriate, they provided hands-on support to help them develop strategies and understand the challenges and opportunities related to trading overseas.

In some cases, this included facilitating trade missions and meet-the-buyer events, leveraging the Overseas Business Network, and bringing SME clients together to collaborate and share knowledge. Throughout, the team acted with a high degree of autonomy and were given latitude to work independently and creatively to find the best solutions for their clients.

Over the years, as the contract evolved, we demonstrated our agility, reshaping services to meet new objectives and stakeholder demand. For example, what initially began as a service to support new and existing SMEs, eventually became more focused on mid-sized businesses with higher potential for larger export wins.

Embracing digital innovation

Despite the shift, new exporters were not forgotten. Over the years, we pioneered digital solutions to help less-experienced businesses access online advice and resources, nurturing their early journey. This allowed more SMEs to get the help they needed, while freeing up our trade advisers to provide in-depth, one-to-one support to those with greater export potential.

Our approach to digital has always been about enabling customers to get the information and help they need, when they need it. The introduction of our Exemplas Connect platform, for example, allowed us to manage multiple customer journeys in a single space. And when the Covid pandemic forced a sudden shift to virtual, we were well positioned to respond seamlessly, providing a wide range of online services, including organising a conference promoting export to Africa for over 800 delegates.

We also used digital to enhance UK’s Finest, the country’s retail and consumer buyers’ network. By leveraging data and insights, we created a bespoke virtual market place to match specific exporters and buyers.

Continuous improvement

For every contract, Exemplas is relentlessly focused on continuous improvement, overseen and driven by our in-house management and board meetings. During this contract, data mapping played a critical role, allowing us to more intelligently identify and acquire clients, better understand their needs at various stages of the customer journey, and make evidence-based decisions to improve our services. For example, when the data showed a number of clients were looking to break into a particular country, we were able to focus our efforts in that area.

Data was also used to gather real-time feedback during workshops and other events, enabling us to understand specific client needs in an instant, and tailor our services accordingly.

Our approach to continuous improvement resulted in us almost halving the amount of time between first engagement and securing an export win, reducing it from 14 months to just eight.

Philip Kelly, Managing Director of Enterprise Growth Solutions, reflects on the successful delivery; “Exemplas delivered to a high standard and regularly exceed targets. Their understanding of business and export support and changing government requirements, meant they were able to adapt and continuously deliver a first-class service. A key factor were the skills and expertise of not only the front-line advisory team but colleagues who ensured the reporting and intelligence allowed us to develop and grow the service to meet changing client needs.”

15 years of success

Throughout this contract, we worked closely with our funding partner to adapt our services to meet changing stakeholder priorities as well as national events such as Brexit and Covid.

Over the 15 years we:

  • Supported 18,000 businesses.
  • Secured 7,243 export wins worth £7.5bn.
  • Achieved the highest net promoter scores of all regions.
  • Consistently had the best results of any delivery partner. 

Feedback from customers of the service:

“The support from our International Trade Adviser has given our business has been incredibly valuable in unlocking new international markets, and building overseas relationships with online marketplaces in Australia and New Zealand.” Josh Rouse, Director, Reality Glitch

“Our international trade adviser gave us excellent advice that proved very useful and honest, I would say to-the-point, which was very much needed. His advice, guidance and thoughtfulness has led to an increase in our export business.”​ Relton Herron, Director, Avacare

Although this successful contract ended in 2022, Exemplas continues to deliver exporting advice – along with advice on all international business matters – to SMEs in our region. Find out more.