Aerial view on Glenfinnan Monument and Loch Shiel,Scotland

At a recent Lochaber Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast, Charlotte Wright, CEO of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, highlighted ‘internationalisation’ as one of their key priorities for growing the economy of the Highlands. It’s all about encouraging businesses to expand their horizons and explore the potential of international trade in goods and services. 

Tapping into new markets can bring incredible opportunities for growth.  Here in Lochaber, we have a diverse range of Chamber members whose businesses trade their goods and services internationally – from whisky and marine aquaculture equipment to commercial diving training courses, we’ve got many inspiring examples of how companies of all sizes can do great business beyond these shores.

We caught up with some of our member businesses to chat all things exporting and ask what they felt was the most important things to know when developing your business internationally.

Chris Jones of Norfab Equipment

From their base in Fort William, Norfab equips everyone from shrimp farmers in Latin America to salmon farms in Atlantic Canada and bass producers in the Mediterranean. Chris’ company specialises in down-to-earth solutions to the daily challenges in the aquaculture sector, they are renowned for designing and building high quality ready-to-use and bespoke equipment for fish farming.

Chris highlighted the importance of marketing to his business – and credits local website designers, Hotscot, for ensuring his website is optimised to show up prominently in online searches. Attending trade shows and making personal connections is also a key part of marketing the business.

Chris said, “Being part of the Chambers of Commerce network has really helped me in my business, making it much easier to secure EUR1 forms and advice in technical trading matters.”

Chris also highlighted the vital importance of making sure you have a thorough understanding of all the costs involved and that it’s well worth shopping around for the best shipping agent for different international areas. And his key piece of advice: always ensure you receive payment (preferably in sterling) before you dispatch your products.

Colin Ross, Managing Director, Ben Nevis Distillery

Founded in 1825, Ben Nevis Distillery has been owned by Nikka Whisky Distilling Company of Japan since 1990 so the distillery has traded internationally for many years. Although most of the whisky distilled in Fort William is destined for Nikka, the distillery also sells bottled single malt and casks of mixed malts to customers as far afield as Ukraine, Taiwan, Spain and New Zealand.

Managing Director Colin Ross says, “Confidence in your buyer is key. We’ve found that it’s worth taking the time to build strong business relationships. Many of our customers are more like friends, returning year after year to buy from us so we get to know and trust them.”

Steve Ham, Commercial Director at The Underwater Centre

The Underwater Centre is the world’s leading subsea training and trials centre, specialising in providing commercial diving and ROV pilot training and subsea equipment trials from its base by Loch Linnhe.

Rather than physical products, the Underwater Centre exports its services to the global market but the principles of international trade remain the same. It’s about knowing your markets, making the effort to forge strong connections and being very clear on what you are providing.

Steve says, “We’ve found that the range of support available through HIE and Scottish Development International has been extremely useful – from advice and workshops to helping with support for overseas trade missions.”

“You’ve got to understand your market and get a feel for the people and culture you’ll be dealing with.  We’ve recently visited Japan – this strengthened an existing business relationship and created new business connections. We’ve also seen a trade mission to Mexico bear fruit recently, with contacts made leading us to do consultancy work there and now bringing a Mexican company to do a significant amount of training with us in Fort William.

What does Steve think are the key things to consider? “Be prepared to work to overseas timescales: phoning or skyping late at night comes with the territory; and be prepared to translate important information to meet your customers’ needs. We developed the capability to deliver our courses in other languages specifically to satisfy what we identified as a real need in the international market.”

Quick tips for success

So, if you’re inspired to find out more or you’re ready to dip your toes in international waters, remember these quick tips for success:

  • Know your market and build strong business relationships
  • Ensure payment (or have a guarantee such as a letter of credit) before supplying goods or services
  • Make sure you’ve got a thorough grasp of the paperwork
  • Take advantage of the help available through HIE, Scottish Development International and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce network

Good luck! Bonne chance! Viel glück! Buona fortuna! …., Buena seurte! Held ogg lykke!

Join us on Tuesday 13th November for an essential briefing on ‘International Selling and Brexit’ with Ewan Ramsay from HIE. This is part of a packed programme of informative and inspiring events that make up Lochaber Ideas Week, 12th – 16th November. Visit to find out more and book your tickets. More on this in the next issue…