crowds of people at a trade show

Attending a Trade Mission

Trade missions allow companies to explore opportunities in overseas markets while reducing the risk and cost compared to travelling alone. Typically, they involve a number of companies at different levels of exporting, as well as officials who are there to support businesses throughout the trip. Trade missions give businesses of all sizes an opportunity to showcase their company and make valuable contacts overseas.

Below, we look at how businesses can plan for their next trip, with advice from industry experts and experienced attendees.

Choose a trade mission

A trade mission can be initiated by both private and public sector organisations, each with their own individual objectives. The Department for International Trade (DIT), along with the Northern Powerhouse, organises government official trade missions to markets all over the world, delivering a comprehensive programme including attendance at international trade shows, meeting programmes, and private tours all at a cost-effective price. There are also often valuable networking opportunities with key representatives from the industry and overseas governments.

“I really enjoyed being part of the show and loved the layout of our area. We made a lot of excellent contacts including suitable buyers and distributors, and 70% of contacts were made through fellow exhibitors.” (trade mission attendee)

When choosing your trade mission, consider the agenda of activities and if they will suit your company’s goals. Trade missions that involve a trade show require further research, find out what kind of companies will be exhibiting and who will be attending – is this the right audience for you?

Travelling with a government-backed delegation can often broaden your networking opportunities, particularly in terms of government officials and industry professionals. Munir Mamujee, managing director of m2r Education has been on over 20 trade missions in the last ten years and shares his experiences with other businesses. He believes DIT adds credibility when travelling overseas and has given him access to key contacts he never would met.

DIT trade mission manager and business at Maine Beer Box
Suzie Hattersley, Trade Mission Manager for DIT, supports businesses on trade missions all over the world.

Have a clear objective for the trip

Trade missions incur a cost, both financially and in time away from the office, but by planning for it you will get a clearer idea of what to aim for and how to maximise your experience. You will typically book onto a trade mission four to five months in advance, which gives you sufficient, valuable time to prepare for your trip, make contacts in advance and understand what business development you hope to achieve.

To help you prepare, ask yourself three key questions ahead of your visit:
• Why are you going?
• Who do you want to meet?
• What goals do you want to achieve?

To help cover the cost of your trip, you may be eligible for the Market Visit Support grant or the Trade Show Access Programme.

Prepare for the trade show

Trade shows are a great way to showcase your brand in an overseas market. They provide opportunities to put your company in front of potential customers and business partners all under one roof. Whether you’re an exhibitor or a visitor, there are a few golden rules to ensure you make the most of your time at a trade show:

• Research the trade show

Know where you’re going and what to expect. What kind of companies are exhibiting? Who will be attending? Consider the target audience and whether it’s customer-focused or business-focused, as this will impact your approach. Reach out to your contacts, see if anyone has first-hand experience of the show, or check with your International Trade Adviser (ITA) who can point you in the right direction.

• Contact people in advance

If you have a contact you’re keen to meet at the show, get in touch as soon as possible. Consider how you will make yourself stand out from others too. Why not send your portfolio or a sample of your product? Suzie Hattersley, Trade Mission Manager for DIT Yorkshire and the Humber, recommends taking the time to reach out to your contacts, “Everyone has a busy schedule, particularly when visiting a trade show. This can help ensure you make an impression early and gives you the opportunity to set up meetings in advance.”

• Sending samples overseas

If you’re bringing products to showcase at an exhibition, remember to take into consideration delivery time, destination or potential freight handling. Remember, if your goods are returning to the UK after your trip, apply for an ATA Carnet, a customs documentation which will allow your samples to travel duty-free and tax-free. To find out more, read the guide on

“When you come back from a trade mission, if you’re not exhausted, then you haven’t done what you were supposed to!” Munir Mamujee, m2r Education. Read more.

• Adapt your marketing material

Just because your marketing material works in the UK, doesn’t mean that it will work overseas. Take time to consider the country you’re visiting; do you need to adapt it for a particular type of customer? If you need to translate your material, make sure it is translated by a native speaker who understands the nuances of the language.

• Promote your presence

Shout about the fact you’ll be there. If you can create a hype about your attendance, people will come and find you.  Social media is an excellent platform to promote your presence, using photos and videos to share your experience with others. Use the trade show social media pages and hashtags to connect you to other show attendees. If you’re exhibiting, don’t forget to include your stand number. If you’re visiting with a delegation from DIT, follow the social media guide to elevate your presence before, during and after the show.

What to do after the trade mission

After your trip, make sure you follow-up with contacts. Many people’s inboxes will be heaving after a show, so be quick to get in touch while they can still remember you. It may be that you need to schedule a follow-up visit to the market, which funding can be used to support. Consider attending the same trade mission next year to build upon your success and develop those existing relationships. If things didn’t go quite right the first time, learn from those experiences and try again.

For more information about upcoming DIT-led trade missions, visit our events calendar.