Taking your small business global

Technology has shrunk the marketplace. It’s now a lot easier than you may think to take even the smallest business global. Consumers may be feeling the pinch in the UK, but globally the middle-class is mushrooming. That means many more potential customers who could just be waiting for your business to show up.

If you think it’s time to become a micro-multinational, read on and discover our top five tips for doing so.

Focus

At this stage, you may be restricted by limited resources, so it’s important to narrow down your target market, rather than chasing every international opportunity. We suggest the following:

  • First, make sure that your product or service is distinctive. It’s hard enough to compete locally on price, globally it’s impossible. Even if you provide a fairly standard service for example, your niche could be in-depth focus on delivering to a particular industry – in that case your specialist knowledge makes you much more attractive to people in that industry and you can charge more.
  • Find an area to target with a large or growing customer base for your particular niche.
  • Areas where you can expect a reasonable profit margin.
  • A location with legal systems that make it easier to trade. UKTI publish useful guides to trading with specific countries.

Money smart

Many small businesses lose out on currency exchange rates, fees and international taxes. It can be a minefield and your bank may not be the best source of services or advice here.

Currency Fair have produced a useful article on the hidden charges often concealed by 0% commission rates all small businesses owners expanding overseas should read. Be sure when you do expand that you’ve considered financial aspects and if money isn’t your strongest point, seek the advice of an expert.

Online presence

It’s important to have your own website, but many small businesses really get off the ground globally through platform sites. Etsy and notinthehighstreet have revolutionised the marketing of creative and handmade businesses; Peopleperhour has done the same for services. For products there is Ebay, Amazon and Chinese-based Alibaba. And there are also niche platforms for almost every area you can think of, so do your research. You can try most of those platforms for free or very little.

If you need to go it alone with your own website as your primary sales channel you should make sure that it is ready for non-domestic and non-English-speaking visitors. Optimising your site with your target audience in mind will also help, so think about localised spellings, translation and specific domain names.

Specialist support

Chambers of Commerce generally have export specialists and can advise on all those bureaucratic issues. And of course the Chamber network can be a good place to get to know others who are trading overseas. Knowing others with relevant experience can be one the best ways to save time and stress!  UKTI offer regular training and support opportunities and quite often have grants available, particularly for producers and manufacturers.

Patience

Patience and perseverance really are global virtues. Even with a competitive product, international business can be slow to develop. Don’t expect instant success, it all depends on your ability to define a plan, test and develop the market, find customers… and everything else in-between.

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