How SME's can expand globally  

April 29, 2020
Entrepreneurship is central to the economic growth of most free market economies. Many global brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Mattel and Facebook began life as SME’s. Key to growing an SME business either within the sector or so it can become an enterprise business, is the ability to expand into new markets. While your own country may provide a large enough market initially there are many reasons why expanding overseas is advantageous.

Some of the reasons to consider offering your product in other markets: 


  • increase the sales life of existing products
  • limit the impact of market fluctuations
  • reduce the risk posed by only selling in one market
  • learn how to compete with similar business
  • implement learnings in home market
  • build your brand

Of course with every opportunity there is risk and growing your business overseas is no different. The challenges your business will face when entering a new market can be broken into 4 broad themes:

Political: if you are hoping to expand into an emerging or nationalist market there may be political limitations that you don’t face elsewhere. 

Economic: there are economic considerations when it comes to accessing new markets, they may take the form of additional taxes, cost of production or distribution.

Legal: before expanding it is important to seek legal advice on any regulations that may impact your industry or product in your target market.

Technical: these limitations can be interpreted in a number of ways they may be external or internal, both of which need to be considered before moving into a new market.  

When it comes to taking the plunge into an overseas market, preparation is essential. Once you have done due diligence around potential constraints and worked out a potential market for your product, it is time to enter the research phase of expansion:  


Research finance options

Exporting your products or services abroad is likely to be a costly exercise. If you can’t cover your projected costs funding options to consider include:

  • Government grants: some governments offer SME’s grants to grow their business, with payback options when your business reaches a certain level of success 
  • Investors: depending on what you are planning it may be worthwhile seeking venture capital funding or to work with an angel investor. This can be a good way to grow a small to medium business as they may offer insights that you may not have internally
  • Debt-based finance: a small business or term loan may offer enough in the way of finance for your business to begin expanding into overseas markets


Conduct thorough market research

Conduct as much market research prior to entering a new market as you can. Use secondary research to understand if a similar product or service exists in your desired target market.

If you can afford to, conduct primary market research within your target marketing via surveys, focus groups and similar methods. Include all the insights you garner in your international business plan. 


Develop an international business plan

Key to success is having a written plan for expansion. It should contain many of the elements of a standard business plan but with a focus on the markets you want to expand into:

  • goals and objectives of the expansion and how you are going to achieve them
  • operational information like where your business is based, who your suppliers are, how your business is going to function in a new market
  • financial information: profit and loss, sales forecasts etc.


Understand and respect the local culture

If you are expanding into a market that is significantly different to your own, research the local culture thoroughly: 

  • are there social norms you should be aware of? 
  • what is acceptable or unacceptable in terms of advertising or doing business? 
  • how should you behave with suppliers or manufacturers? 
  • what is appropriate when greeting people? 

All these elements are informed by the culture of a country or market. Being informed and respectful of culture will prevent any faux pas that could damage your brand or reputation.


Build your team expertise

Last but by no means least build the knowledge of the new market within your team. There are many ways in which businesses do this and the right option for your SME will very much depend on the product or service you provide. One way to do this is by setting up an office or base in the new market. Although the ultimate goal may be to hire local employees it is often useful to send employees from head office on expat assignment to establish an office initially.

If you do decide to send employees abroad, don’t forget to protect their physical health and wellbeing with international health insurance plans, specially tailored for SMEs

With our modular international healthcare plans for small and medium sized businesses you can build your plan to suit the needs of your employees and your budget.