21 Jan 2014

Overcoming the Barriers to International Expansion

Go global

Launching into new markets can be an exciting way for companies to launch new products, tap into new countries and enjoy a boost to the bottom line. And in the digital age, this is made even easier by the fact companies can set up websites tailored to overseas markets without even having to set foot out of the UK.

Yet despite the benefits of going global, it’s still the case that many firms are reluctant to trade overseas – why?

New research from Baker Tilly, an accountancy firm, shows that UK-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are reluctant to expand overseas, with just 25% planning to increase their international sales over the coming year.

The poll, of 750 SMEs, found the main barrier holding firms back is perceived cost, with 90% of respondents feeling that international expansion is too expensive. Some 70% said they were worried about a loss of control over their operations.

Baker Tilly’s Rob Donaldson said: “International expansion is not for the faint-hearted. It is clear that many SMEs do not feel sufficiently comfortable coming out of a tough recession to take the risks implied by ‘going international’.

“Overseas expansion can be a great opportunity for some, but there are pitfalls for the inexperienced or unprepared, and businesses would be wise to seek advice and take advantage of the networks and opportunities provided by UK Trade and Investment or the British Chambers of Commerce.”

The survey showed a marked difference between London and the rest of the UK. While almost half (44%) of London-based SMEs were active internationally, in most other regions, the equivalent figure was generally between 20-30%, ranging from 20% in Wales and Northern Ireland to 31% in Yorkshire and the north-east.

If you’re an SME feeling apprehensive about expanding overseas, here are three ways you can overcome the barriers to international expansion:

Read case studies

What better way to learn more about the benefits of going global than learning how other firms just like you have done it. Case studies are a great way of getting greater insight over a situation, and you’ll find the fact they are from genuine businesses.

Here are a couple to get you started:

Read how communications firm ARL Comms expanded into Africa

Read how cement firm Instarmac launched in Southeast Asia.

Develop a strategy

Developing a strategy for international expansion will give you greater confidence about such an initiative. It’ll allow you to make the business case for expansion, set goals and aims and budget properly.

An international expansion strategy serves as the infrastructure for everything you do globally. It’s like a business plan – you can forecast the first few years of your international project. It’ll also help you secure investment.

Set up online and offer translated website content

If you don’t have the resources to set up physical offices in a new country, that doesn’t mean you can’t go global. Lots of businesses are adapting their ecommerce platforms for overseas trade and there are a whole host of merchant websites that allow you to connect with customers overseas.

Remember though that one really important part of this is offering customers accurately translated website content. If you’re launching an ecommerce website for Italy, for example, make sure you work with a professional provider of translation services to offer accurate content. Back this up with effective content marketing – like how-tos and blog posts.


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