Getting creative internationally

 10 February 2011

If you have a creative a product with universal appeal, selling overseas is the way to faster business growth and bigger profits. Though it may sound daunting, with the right planning, contacts and confidence, a creative business can succeed in the international market.

James Donald is a Scottish based weaver.
James Donald is a Scottish based weaver.

Two craft-makers are taking on the international challenge. James Donald is a Scottish based weaver. Geraldine Grandidier runs children’s furniture company Tidy Books. Both have taken their crafts overseas via two very different routes. They offer advice on how to follow their lead.

Taking a creative product overseas

Build a creative reputation

It was in London where he met a gallery owner who recommended he apply for the New York International Gift Fair. “I went there thinking it would be like the fairs I’d taken part in back home. It turned out to be life changing.”

On that initial morning, James received an order from a San Francisco gallery worth more than what he had made over five years of exhibiting in Glasgow. As the maker, his unique selling point was himself. It was the reputation he built up as the Scottish crafter in a kilt that gets him recognised each year.

Create a unique product

Geraldine Grandidier, a violin maker, spotted a gap in the market for a children’s bookcase so she decided to make her own.

“I was looking for a bookshelf for my daughter where she could pick books by the cover and not by their spine and was shocked to find nothing like it existed. I knew instantly that my idea would be successful internationally, because the product is useful wherever you are in the world and not dependent on climate or culture.”

As soon as her UK business launched, she began researching her move into the international market.

International markets: where to begin?

"I knew my idea would be successful internationally, because the product is useful wherever you are in the world and not dependent on climate or culture.”

You don’t need to speak a language to do business in a country, though it’s advisable to learn basics. Without language skills you will need an interpreter, something James found invaluable when he tested the market in Japan.

“I won an award that allowed me to exhibit in Osaka and started selling there too. I found an interpreter in Tokyo who attended all my meetings and negotiations, but it was still difficult to understand what was going on as the culture there is so different.

"While the US buyers tell you immediately whether they like your work, in Japan they are more sedate and it’s hard to tell what they actually think!”

Geraldine based her production in China, even though she was nervous about the challenge. “I had never done anything like this before, but through talking to people and regular networking that I was able to make the right choices.”

It was networking at a conference that helped Geraldine make her Chinese contacts. She also had a relationship with Business Link, whose advisors helped keep her on track.

Finding international business contacts

Geraldine networks regularly and used the business networking site LinkedIn to find a contact to help her expand into the US. After a year of emailing and building a relationship with them she now has someone who manages the product there.

At a toy fair in Germany, Geraldine got talking to someone, who had a contact who would be interested in her product and that’s how she developed her business in Australia. The internet is particularly beneficial. “Blogging is a great way to market your product. As my product is for children, I visit a lot of mum’s forums and spread the word through them.”

10 tips for taking your business overseas


  • Visit the country you intend to branch into, to learn about the people and culture. Including how you should dress and behave appropriately. 
  • Show your work in person. Crafts especially need to be handled for a buyer to appreciate their value. This can’t be done by emailing images.
  • Attend trade fairs before you book a stall, to observe and undertake market research.
  • Talk to other people who already have businesses in that country.
  • Give yourself realistic delivery dates. As your business expands, you need time to make your products.


  • Try and do everything yourself. You can get help and support from many different sources.
  • Believe all the advice you’re given. It’s good to bounce ideas with people, but listen to your gut instinct too. 
  • Make expensive investments in the beginning.
  • Print your stationery and business cards until you’ve thoroughly checked the trading name you will be using in that country.
  • Give in to any bribery or corruption. If in any doubt, contact the UK embassy in the country you’re in and get advice.

Expanding abroad isn’t for everyone but is worth investigating. The rewards are evident and remember: if you don’t do it, your competition will.

To find out more about expanding your creative business abroad, check out the Start Up Overseas events.

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