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Powering ahead to pick up business

Meeting face-to-face with clients can be a vital way to secure business but for many would-be exporters it can appear to be a big hurdle: time-consuming, difficult to manage and expensive. With so much to do already, how do you fit in a visit to Russia or Brazil? And is it worth it?

A lot of SMEs are put off exporting for all these reasons without looking at the bigger picture. Since 2007 the UK economy has hit a slump and if a company wants to grow, or even sustain their business, then it's essential that they spread their wings. The latest export statistics for London show that for the year ending December 2011, we hit a staggering £35.3 billion. This is an increase of 23.9 per cent since December 2010, which is fantastic news, but it's surprising how many companies are yet to take their first steps into overseas markets.

UKTI can help companies meet potential overseas customers through a variety of ways. We host meet and greet meetings on home soil regularly, from global conferences to Meet the Buyers. For example, we recently held a Latin America conference in London featuring over 50 buyers from countries including Chile, Brazil, Peru and Mexico. Alongside this, we organise numerous market visits to help new and inexperienced exporters get out to their target country and meet potential customers. UKTI have 2,400 staff with a presence in 96 countries, including many of the world's countries that are leading producers of energy resources: we have a strong team in Russia, Algeria, Egypt, across the Middle East, Russia and Nigeria.

The value of going to meet potential clients with UKTI lies in obtaining advice and guidance in advance of the visit, help with research into your customers and having UKTI closely work alongside you to set up meetings in advance. In addition, UKTI advisors accompany you and you are given a certain prestige and kudos by being part of an attachment to the British Embassy.

I specialise in the energy sector for UKTI London. UK oil and gas currently supplies around 60% of UK energy needs and the UK oil and gas industry supports 100,000 jobs in exporting goods and services. The sector also provides around £8 billion annually to the Treasury in taxation.

Like all sectors across the UK, firms need to be looking further afield to increase sales and boost the economy. Meeting face-to-face can help companies demonstrate their knowledge to buyers and give them assurances about you and your company so you can start to build up trust from the outset.  

Much of the world's so-called easy oil has already been extracted; remaining oil and gas reserves lie deep and far offshore or in the Arctic tundra wastes of Siberia, Alaska and northern Russia and in the hot dry and arid conditions of the Arabian peninsula and North Africa or offshore in the Gulf of Guinea. Recently, there has been a major find of gas deep offshore by Mozambique and these reserves could extend as far north as Kenya and Somalia.

UK oil and gas experts are extremely well-suited to tackling these extremely challenging environments based on our history of 40 years working in the hostile waters of the North Sea. This experience has also made UK companies world leaders in the development of energy and carbon management systems, with exceptional project development and management skills across the full range of energy sub-sectors, including renewables, nuclear and hydrocarbons.

Alongside the widely known fact that we have an increasing need for renewables, it's also true that the oil and gas sector is booming and there are huge opportunities overseas. The British Government recognises that for much of the remainder of the 21st Century fossil fuels will continue to provide most of the UK's and the world's energy, with greater supplies gradually being generated by renewable and other sources.

In my role advising UK companies on exporting and the energy sector I've been on four missions to countries including Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and India, and what has stood out for me is the high regard in which British expertise is held in many parts of the globe.

In April, UKTI will be taking a number of UK delegates to the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. This is one of the world's leading annual global oil and gas conferences attracting more than 50,000 delegates and over 2,000 exhibitors. We'll be running a programme of events at the conference to help UK SMEs with targeting opportunities in the US and Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and Mexico, among others. We have a mission to Trinidad and Tobago at the end of March 2012 to give companies the chance to tap into the opportunities in onshore and offshore wind, solar, tidal and green buildings and energy efficiency.

And we are currently in discussions to run a mission to the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. This would cover all aspects of the industry from exploration and production to engineering and procurement and construction. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia holds the world's largest proven reserves of oil and the majority of that oil is onshore in the deep desert, although exploration is also now taking place offshore.
All UK companies need to be looking overseas to grow sales and sustain their business and we are on hand to help each step of the way.

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