Viljar Lubi: A business card with the government’s emblem on it wields a lot of influence – it is a tool for entrepreneurs that helps them use the state to their benefit and open doors

The further from Estonia you get, the greater the differences in business culture and the bigger the influence a business card with the government’s emblem on it wields. The new digital solution visiidid.ee gives entrepreneurs a better opportunity to use the government’s business visits to their benefit, writes Viljar Lubi, a deputy secretary general with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

Although Estonia is small, it’s a successful trading nation. Our small size is exactly what has taught us that nothing but exports ensures economic prosperity. Additionally, our global reach is widening. We are increasingly selling our goods and services to countries that are far away from us and that we don’t know as well as our immediate partners in neighbouring regions. Last year, Estonia exported to 180 countries.

The country exports effectively, but we could definitely sell even more. It’s true that you can’t usually sell from home. The private sector is very much aware of this, but so is the state. For example, the image of our e-state isn’t internationally successful merely because our solutions are good, but also because everyone talks about it when they’re abroad. And this has been happening for years.

At least half the success of every business trip depends on the preparations made for it. Regions are different and so are countries. The further we go from Estonia, the greater the differences in business culture tend to be. At the same time, the need for state support varies. The state doesn’t usually need to get involved in companies’ sales activities in neighbouring areas, but on more distant markets it’s often very much necessary. This is primarily because the further away we get, the more unknown we become. People aren’t familiar with our entrepreneurs, and this can cause potential local business partners to doubt them, hindering communication. The presence of a national representative can mitigate this doubt, because by being there, the state validates the company as credible and worth dealing with.

A few years ago, I served as the Estonian ambassador to India. Our small country is largely unknown there, but a business card with the government’s emblem on it wielded great influence in communicating with local businessmen, and often opened doors that would have remained shut to me had I proffered a regular business card, even if it had read ‘CEO’. This is likely the main reason why Estonian entrepreneurs need to go on international visits with a state representative in tow.

As I remarked above, the success of every visit largely depends on how well it is planned. In order to plan well, you need enough time and sufficient understanding of where to go and why. Business missions led by high-level state representatives have been normal practice for years. For the most part they’ve been a success, and entrepreneurs have championed them. If we look at our development needs, opportunities are going unused in terms of better planning. To this end, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has developed a new digital solution: visiidid.ee. This is a portal which gathers together all planned business visits involving high-level national representatives. It’s a site on which all entrepreneurs can plan their export-oriented business visits, show their interest in specific markets, register for upcoming visits and more. The information in the portal is constantly updated, which means that entrepreneurs’ awareness doesn’t depend on whether they’ve received a certain e-mail or whether it’s gotten lost among all the other e-mails in their inbox.

It’s also a tool that is open to every Estonian exporting company or those planning to export. The state’s communication with companies has so far been largely restricted to the databases of just a few bigger entrepreneurship organisations, such as Enterprise Estonia and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But there are many companies in Estonia which are not everyday clients of these organisations, and that’s why valuable information may not be reaching them. Now you can get all information from one place, regardless of whether Enterprise Estonia, the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry or someone else is responsible for the preparation of a specific visit. The e-state must find its way into this important field as well. Defining markets of interest, planning visits, registering for them and carrying them out must be convenient and able to be done in an online environment. We know only too well that a signable PDF does not an e-state make. The visits platform will be of great help to the state: it’s like the state’s own CRM, allowing our activities to be consistent and well-planned. Visiidid.ee forms part of a larger business diplomacy strategy whose aim is to utilise the modest resources of a small country via cooperation between the private and the public sectors for the sake of a common goal. There are ambitious companies in Estonia which haven’t yet received information on visits but which need state support to reach foreign markets.

Recent years have shown us that the need for well-coordinated export-oriented cooperation between the private and the public sectors has increased, because the activity of Estonian companies on foreign markets has significantly grown. For many years now Estonia has been a successful exporting country, but we’ve been much less successful when it comes to sales. Questionnaires carried out among entrepreneurs reveal that one of the greatest obstacles to a company’s success is the lack of a distribution network on export markets. While the added value of our goods and services is rapidly growing, the direct sales of Estonian companies have quickly increased alongside the dominance of subcontracts. And this is happening in countries increasingly further away. Growing exports are in all of our interest. Let’s coordinate the area more effectively, thereby boosting our productivity. See you at the next visit!

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