Tips for SME’s building an international business expansion strategy

  April 02, 2020

Operating in more than one country offers more than just the obvious advantage of expansion and growth it also:

  • reduces dependence on your home market 
  • mitigates seasonal fluctuations or demand cycles
  • hedges against economic instability in any one market

Expanding globally also carries a lot of risk for an SME which is why a considered approach to growth is important: 

Begin by researching potential markets for your product. There are a number of questions your business needs to ask when deciding where to expand to initially:

  • what barriers to entry are there in this market?
  • is the market familiar with your product or service?
  • what is physical infrastructure like?

The combined answers to the above questions should help you identify the best market for your SME.

Key to success in any area of business is having a clear written plan. This is a step some SME’s skip as it is time consuming and challenging when done well. In the end, the effort you put into planning your expansion will pay dividends. It will also pale into insignificance compared to extracting yourself from an unplanned expansion that fails.   

Any form of expansion will require financing. As well as the usual sources of finance, consider contacting investment companies and government agencies who may have budgets to help SME’s export or expand abroad.
As with business in your home country, your people are key to success. There are logistics required to grow your SME overseas. Depending on your industry, this may involve sourcing suppliers, manufacturers or retailers in addition to navigating all the legal requirements of international business. If there is no existing knowledge of this area it is worth hiring expertise so your business avoids costly market entry mistakes. 
Build agility into your strategy for international expansion. Ensure your business takes stock of progress on a quarterly basis and optimises strategy accordingly. A change of direction may be required if sales in a particular market are not reaching projections. 
This will depend on your industry but most SME’s expand internationally with the smallest infrastructural footprint as possible. Test the market with imports, renting office space or by partnering with a local manufacturer rather than establishing a base there. Once you have established a firm market for your product or service, your business can look at developing a more permanent base.

Do not underestimate the need for a full-time human presence in a market that you are establishing your business in. You may choose to send a senior manager on expat assignment to establish your office initially but also hire locally. Local employees may also help the business spot additional opportunities or identify how you may have to adapt products for the local market.

There is no doubt growing internationally comes with risk, but if carefully planned it can also be a great move for your business. 

Protect employees while they travel on expat assignment or for business with international health insurance tailored to SME’s so they can access medical treatment around the world.

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.