We don’t know when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available in each of the 20+ countries in the region, or the way in which it will be phased out. We don’t know when international business travel will be back to normal to, from or within the region. We know our economies will struggle and we know that not every sector or market will weather 2021 in the same way. But we also know there’s plenty of business to be done.

From our experience of supporting companies from all over the world in Latin America in 2020 (and the 9 years before then!), particularly SMEs, we know there’s a lot you will be able to achieve to improve and/or increase your business in the region, whatever 2021 has in store for you:

Work out where Latin America fits in your overall export strategy.

What’s your 5-10 year plan? What markets will you focus on? Are you ready? What resources will you need to develop? Why Latin America? Why now? Why you? As we discussed recently, these questions are crucially important and 2021 can be the year to have a go at answering them. If you are already in the region, 2021 is a good year to stop and think about these issues again and spot and solve any particular bottlenecks. Count on us if you’d like to brainstorm together!

Fill in the gaps.

What is really stopping you from doing more/better business in Latin America?

From experience, it’s usually two things: knowledge and contacts.

Exactly what information do you need? 2021 can be a good idea to pull it all together. You can either research it yourself, rely on an export promotion body, chamber or association to help you, hire a private consultant, or a combination of all of that. Plan your market research and have a clear brief with timescales and budget.

Who do you need to speak to? Potential clients, distributors, sector experts? Make 2021 the year when you finally get hold of them. Again, having a plan and devoting the right (in-house and outsourced) resources is key.

Maybe what you need is training, either on a specific sector or market, or on specific issues. Find out what’s available and if you don’t find it, write a brief and ask government agencies, trade bodies and private consultants if they can come up with a training plan for you. Reach out to fellow trade association members and exporters in your region for support.

Polish your marketing.

By now, you will have seen that we are guiding you through a solid methodology for entering or expanding into Latin American markets. We take our clients through this process, even if long, to avoid exposing them as much as possible to high risks, and to increase their chances of succeeding locally.

Working on your marketing is something you can definitely do in 2021, however the year shapes up, to boost your expansion into the region. It might involve translating a two-page brochure or all your technical sheets, that’s your call. It might be including more videos on your YouTube channel or shortlisting trade shows for 2022. There’s a lot that can be achieved.

Put together your Dream Team.

Building your Dream Team for Latin America can easily take the whole of 2021 and it is probably the most valuable thing you can aim for all year. Start with those at home, who can you recruit for your Latin America project? Who will you need on the team? Alice from Compliance, Matt from Marketing, Elaine from Admin, Sharon from sales?

A team of tried and trusted suppliers is also a must: graphic designers, translators, interpreters, customs experts, business consultants, regulatory experts, you name it.

And who do you need across the region? A regional sales manager? Maybe, maybe not. A distributor in two or three key markets to start with? Probably. That is something you can work on all year (we work daily on distributor recruitment and I can guarantee you it takes no less than 3 and usually 6 months to recruit a good distributor in the region).

Building, training and getting used to working as part of that team will help you through the ups and downs of a challenging region.

How about selling?

All very nice, the preparation, the marketing, and all that but, I can hear you say, I just want to sell!

If you have done absolutely no work in Latin America before and if you are looking long-term, from experience, a year is probably the very minimum it will take you to achieve meaningful sales in the region. But you need to start somewhere! For companies new to the region, I would not put any pressure on achieving sales in 2021, particularly given the current context. It can happen, but skipping the steps we discussed above will mean that those will, more likely than not, only be one-off sales. Let sales be the result of doing everything right, and not the objective, at least for the first year. Latin America is not for quick wins. And, as company MDs and Sales Directors always tell me “it’s not the first PO I am looking for, but the second and the third”.

If you have worked in the region before and maybe all you need to do is unlock a particular issue, sector or market, then you are more likely to be able to achieve sales in 2021, but you’ll have to do your homework, too.

Think of 2022.

If there is one thing you can definitely achieve in 2021 is a solid foundation for 2022. That should be the goal. Enough said, we think!