Foreign shores: Building your business overseas


With the international construction industry expected to be worth AUD$19.6 trillion by 2030, Australian businesses have ample opportunities to get involved in the global market.

For exporters, Austrade reveals that Australian architects and urban planners are already well established in China. There’s also increasing need for design, architectural and project management services in Fiji and Singapore, and building and construction materials are always required in the Philippines.

From an importing perspective, many Australian businesses supply internationally-sourced building materials to the local industry.

Regardless of whether you’re planning to import or export, you need to understand your target markets before taking your business overseas.

There's increasing demand for Australian service providers

There's increasing demand for Australian service providers – such as architects and urban planners – around the world.

Get to know the country (and its laws)

Each country has its own unique way of doing business. Depending which regions you target, there'll be a range of different regulations. One of the most crucial areas to consider is local building standards, says Keith Richardson, General Manager of Imagine Kit Homes. The Brisbane-based business designs houses for – and sends building materials to – clients all around the world.

Having sent kit homes to India, China, Indonesia, New Zealand, Kiribati, Tonga, Fiji and the Cook Islands, Richardson knows how important it is to understand the conditions of each country. “A house that goes to New Zealand needs earthquake resistance and snow loading,” he explains, “whereas a house that goes to Fiji needs to adhere to cyclone rating compliance. Every house is custom designed to suit where it's going to be built.”

Adherence to local building laws is equally critical when bringing goods into Australia, says Jeffrey Francis, owner of JJ Building & Imports. “You must meet mandatory standards when they apply,” he explains of the building materials he sources form China for small businesses, builders and operators in Australia. “You must also look at all the risks associated with each product. It is very difficult to get information on safety and standards, but I limit my products to those that don’t have excessive risk.”

If your business is working in the construction industry overseas, familiarise yourself with local building regulations

Familiarising yourself with local building regulations is essential when working in another country.

Understand customs regulations

Exported materials must comply with Australian customs laws before leaving the country and local customs laws at their destination – and vice versa for imported goods. For this reason, businesses need to understand quarantine laws in both countries and check whether there are any limits on what can (and can’t) be brought into a foreign port.

Exporters must also make sure they’ve packed their goods securely, Richardson adds. “When exporting, you need to make sure you’re not sending a new species of snake or spider to a country that's never had that sort of thing before,” he says, explaining that packaging itself is also scrutinised by border control. “Some countries won’t accept timber – even packing crates aren’t allowed – whereas other countries don’t have a problem with it.”


Factor in all your costs

Just like legalities, costs vary according to the markets you work with. Most of the products Francis sources from China, for example, are sold in US dollars, which means he needs to pay transaction fees both in Australia and China. “This can easily add five per cent to your costs,” he explains. “A percentage of the shipping cost is also charged in US dollars, so there’s a transaction cost here and in China.”

Imagine Kit Homes simplifies its budgeting process by getting clients to pay all on-costs direct, but strives to get the best price by working with a panel of contractors. “The key is to create a database of suppliers and transport companies and know who to go to for each stage,” he says. “We get three quotes per transport; we don’t just use the same company over and over again. One will be better at sending product to the Cook Islands, whereas another might specialise in India or China.”

One of the best ways to develop a reliable network of suppliers is to speak with other businesses already involved in trade. It also helps to have a comprehensive understanding of your market. “Before you target an area, it’s worth visiting the destination to spend time with and talk to the locals,” says Richardson. “When you go to a new territory, there are always going to be challenges, it's just a matter of working through them and solving each issue as it comes along.”





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