Can SMEs Hold Their Own In The Global Arena?

08 Jan 2016 | 02.51 pm

Can SMEs Hold Their Own In The Global Arena?

Trading across borders can be a complex and risky business, DHL Express's Janet Cox explains

08 Jan 2016 | 02.51 pm

For an entrepreneur or small business owner, when first stepping into the international ring there is a real sense that the odds are stacked against them, according to Janet Cox (pictured), Head of Field Sales, DHL Express Ireland. Gearing up for trading across borders involves a significant undertaking. Researching market opportunities, finding partners and distribution channels, negotiating licences and permits, and navigating customs in an overseas market usually requires considerable financial firepower, resources and political connections, all factors that favour heavyweight businesses.

SME Barriers
A research paper issued by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Breaking Borders, also paints a rather gloomy picture about the international trading environment for SMEs. The companies surveyed highlighted a large number of barriers standing in the way of their global expansion.

Infrastructure problems, prohibitive costs of establishing operations and networks abroad, bureaucracy, corruption and political instability were all cited as reasons for not entering overseas markets. Of those that were venturing abroad, the vast majority were doing so very tentatively, and most SMEs expand into markets similar to their own.

Attractive Markets
The EIU paper also offers a mixed assessment of the world’s growth markets. China remains the most attractive developing market for the majority of SMEs, mainly because of its enormous consumer base and the country’s economic policies, which continue to support growth. There are reservations, however, about the appeal of Africa, with 40% of surveyed companies saying that they see no potential in the continent.

Despite the doom and gloom, the paper still revealed a positive outlook. Most of the SMEs intend to generate over 50% of their revenue from outside their home market within five years. Part of the reason could be that globalisation has intensified competition among smaller businesses. Domestic economies in most markets have also slowed or stagnated, which has put their margins under pressure, forcing businesses to look abroad to grow.

Resourceful
So how can SMEs go global without the financial ‘muscle’ and manpower of bigger companies? Breaking Borders reveals that it takes resourcefulness, partnerships, a robust supply chain and the ability to make your size work in your favour.

DHL was a brash, upstart small business once. Thanks to an aggressive international expansion in the 1970s and 1980s and a ‘first mover’ philosophy, we have grown into one of the world’s most international companies. That was a different time, and we’re a very different company today, but we still have a keen eye for the opportunities of international trade.

Succeeding Abroad
For any small business doubting their ability to tap into Africa’s growth story, for example, the challenges are indeed there, but as the experiences of many of our customers who are trading successfully with the region show, they are by no means insurmountable.
SMEs may have to learn to compete in different ways and to make the best use of all the resources available to them in order to hold their own on the world stage. However, with good planning, a well-designed supply chain, a clear understanding of their competitive strengths and the right mindset, even the smallest of businesses can outperform the global heavyweights.

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