Small businesses are the new face of international trade

Market intelligence and accessible value chains are making it easier for SMEs to export across the globe.
Market intelligence and accessible value chains are making it easier for SMEs to export across the globe.
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It’s no secret that the last few generations have seen a world transformed by trade. In an age defined by rapid innovation, technology has successfully introduced new ways to communicate, and transport goods across the globe.

Broadly, there is consensus among economists about the benefits of free trade. Still, with freshly established channels of commerce enabling scalable operations in previously untapped markets, globalisation has surely produced its share of winners and losers. Generally, large companies—those businesses with the logistical wherewithal, manufacturing capacity, or established name—have gained most from these improvements, and their exports and imports make up the majority of trade in goods and services between nations.

But there’s a growing body of research examining the impact smaller companies can make on trade activity, and the economy as a whole. Recognizing the potential of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)—typically, those companies employing between 10-250 workers—many have touted the benefits that increased exporting and importing for SMEs might have, both for firms, and the countries in which they conduct business.

The prospect of extending one’s product or services to millions of potential customers stands as a tremendous opportunity for SMEs operating in today’s hyper-connected global economy. There are often advantages to being a smaller company in the market: small businesses are usually more flexible and willing to take risks. And thanks to the expanded reach of mobile and digital technologies, many SMEs are taking advantage of supply chains that have exponentially improved their capacity to source globally, and efficiently.

Public support also exists: Countries around the globe are looking to boost manufacturing and exports as a strategy for growth, and are tasking official assets to help grow domestic businesses. But regardless of potential opportunity or public resources, scaling SMEs must deftly navigate the many barriers to entry before building, and distributing their product throughout the globe. Here are three steps they can take to ensure they are successful.

Step one: Tackle the data

Ambitious companies must refine their knowledge about operating in foreign markets. Thanks to the spread of bilateral, or country-to-country, arrangements, rules about trade between countries may need clarification. To be helpful, research around the ease of doing business abroad must center upon regional, country, and industry-specific trends. In helping to navigate global trade currents, comprehensive research tools like Santander’s Trade Portal provide market insights and alerts tailored specifically to expanding SMEs. The Trade Portal helps identify those markets with the highest demand for a company’s products, and provides access to over 200,000 potential business partners and clients across 171 countries. Full access to the Trade Portal is only available to Santander Corporate and Commercial customers. Non-member access to the site will be restricted.

Step two: Get a foot in the door

Once a business is armed with insight, their international approach must center on establishing a foothold in targeted markets. But for companies focused on selling overseas, the cost of visiting new areas might be prohibitive, and, when coupled with attempts at establishing fruitful new trade contacts, frustrating. SMEs should look to proven institutions with a larger international footprint that offer services that help to nurture fledgling companies. For example, Santander subsidises their Trade Missions, which travel with fast-growing SME exporters to target markets, and help to make introductions with local industries.

In addition to the Missions, the Trade Club brings together Santander Group business clients across 13 countries so they can easily interact with each other and establish import and export links. Santander also runs a series of roundtables all over the UK that pair businesses with country experts who can help companies better understand the market nuances of a country of interest.

Step three: Finance expansion on your terms

When it comes time to accelerate growth through a partnership or joint venture, access to funding without losing control of one’s business is paramount. Look for institutions that can offer advice about managing complex financial investments, and help to raise the capital to scale SMEs financial operations abroad.

Learn more about how Santander’s Breakthrough suite of services can help SMEs operate internationally, here: www.santandercb.co.uk

This article was produced on behalf of Santander by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.