Steps SMEs should take to secure export success


Small businesses often have specific financing needs and may require funding support to compete in international markets or to fulfil export-related supply chain contracts.

For businesses trying to navigate that next growth phase into an overseas market, there are a number of differences between exporting and operating in Australia which will have an impact on a business’s finances. Understanding all of the costs associated with exporting will help small businesses make an informed decision on whether their business is ready to meet an export contract.

There are four steps all SMEs should take to ensure export success:

  1. Keep your financial health in check

As your business grows, ensure you have an accountant that understands the fundamentals of your business. Your accountant will help you stay on the right track with your finances as you expand into new markets.

  1. Understand your cashflow requirements

One of the most common problems encountered by growing businesses is when their growth rate outstrips their capacity, which can create pressure on working capital. By developing detailed cashflow projections into the future, you can ensure you are able to plan and manage your cashflow to avoid problems.

  1. Build a strong relationship with your banker

Your banker is crucial in your growth journey. Successful SMEs will keep their banker informed on a regular basis by keeping them updated on what their plans are, what direction they are heading in and any financial issues they anticipate. If you involve your banker closely in your business, it will be much easier to get help the day you run into trouble.

  1. Consider alternative sources of funding

One area small businesses continue to struggle with is finding alternative sources of export funding if their bank can’t help. One such alternative is Efic, the Government’s export credit agency.

Putting it into practice

An example of a company which has addressed these considerations and successfully secured alternative sources of funding is Queensland tour operator Frankland Islands Cruises. Working out of Cairns, Frankland Islands Cruises has taken thousands of people on tours around the Great Barrier Reef since 1992.

“Travelling out to the Frankland Islands, which are a unique set of islands originally discovered by Captain Cook, offers the opportunity to visit five eco-systems while on the one tour. So it’s a nature-based tour of the Great Barrier Reef,” says Ron Cusick, CEO of the company.

Offering a wide range of activities including an island walk, glass bottom boat tour, snorkelling and diving, the business, which has a strong export market, aims to offer tourists a unique experience.

Taking advantage of a Japanese opportunity

Frankland Islands Cruises was approached by a Japanese company wanting to develop a charter program of 80 days over the year. The contract would represent 30% of total business for Frankland Islands Cruises.

Securing the contract was one step; delivering on it was the next. Ron explains, “we needed new equipment, and to set up the activities on the island prior to the tour each day with the reverse at the end of the day, thereby providing a turnkey product that allows their customers to get the most out of their experience on the day.”

With new equipment needed, but finance difficult to raise through the private market, Frankland Islands Cruises needed to look elsewhere for financial help.

“A key challenge is that marine products are very hard to raise finance for across the board. Our bank was unable to help. They simply do not lend to marine and boat businesses and were not willing to consider it. We found out about Efic and made contact. From there the process was very easy,” says Ron.

Funding growth

Efic’s Small Business Export Loan provides small exporters with an unsecured loan of up to $250,000 to support a single export contract. Completed online with a choice of repayment terms, and with funds available in as little as nine business days, the loan was designed to help small export businesses gain access to the finance they need fast.

“The online application process was very user-friendly. The great thing is that we could pick the repayment term we needed, deciding how quickly we wanted to repay the loan.

“The Japanese market has been in decline for five years, but this program that Efic helped fund has reversed that incredibly for our business. The spin-off has been that a lot of other companies in the area have gained increased Japanese business as a result of the charter program,” says Ron.


Andrew Watson

AndrewWatsonAndrew Watson is Executive Director, Export Finance with Efic, which provides financial solutions to help small and medium-sized Australian businesses grow their exports, offshore investments and onshore export-related business opportunities. Prior to joining Efic, Andrew was Head of Rural & Regional Banking at Bankwest and successfully transformed this business, implementing a new sales framework and improving credit quality. He was also head of Bankwest’s Property Finance Business where he successfully implemented a new business strategy for the division.