Local experts are the secret weapon for SMEs to achieve global success

Here, Luke Smith, co-founder and CEO of marketing agency Croud, explains the key things to consider to make your overseas business a success.

The UK economy relies heavily on British exported goods and services. Not only do they play a huge role in the strength of our economy, but they also account for around 20 per cent of our national GDP, with SMEs specifically making up 51 per cent of all UK private sector turnover. Exporting from the UK creates jobs, both here and overseas. But, perhaps more importantly, it promotes brand Britain and British companies around the world too.

For SME business leaders, one of the hardest things to do is to establish how we make swathes of the population overseas migrate towards British brands, thus increasing the likelihood that they will buy from us in the future, and, in doing so, view the UK as an ongoing trading partner. With Brexit looming, rapidly changing technology, and regulation constantly shifting, it’s a particularly exciting yet unnerving time to be selling British products and services overseas.

The challenge for SME marketers in the UK is how to make audiences in cities as diverse Shanghai, Sydney, or Seattle feel intimately close to – and compelled to buy from – British brands.

Shanghai, China
Shanghai, China

Don’t shy away from local agency support

For any exporter there will always be a multitude of challenges involved in marketing in different regions, which present obstacles for clients. A powerful way to overcome this is to have local market knowledge. The right kind of cultural awareness and up-to-date information on what’s going on can ensure marketing budgets are used efficiently, rather than simply throwing money down the drain.

Finding talent on the ground in multiple markets can be difficult and costly. Although it can feel like a big expense, hiring agency support can be a cost-effective alternative to getting that all important local expertise that can be the difference between success and failure.

Ignore networks at your own risk

Retaining customers and consistently delivering for them is what ultimately guarantees a business’ survival. It’s acquiring new customers that requires a bit more risk and costs money.

One of the very best and most effective ways of picking up new business is through an international network and affiliates in other territories. Having an established, solid network removes any massive barriers to market entry, meaning both sales and marketing functions benefit.

Further reading on exporting

Embracing the fear

Although this is far easier said than done, if you have the right balance of capital and local market knowledge, companies shouldn’t be afraid of launching into new markets or of the regulations that come with doing so.

Launching into new markets is easier than you think, after all those countries want your business to do business there. So there is no need to be daunted by the prospect or the regulations surrounding it.

Hiring a smart local business leader or a third party to get you started, will make the process all the more seamless.

When it comes to launching in new markets, that local knowledge and expertise is extremely important for the execution of marketing campaigns that will resonate. In a recent report published by Croud with some of the UK’s most successful SME exporters, the importance of local knowledge was cited by many SME business leaders as vital to their success.

For example, Jan van der Velde, CEO of Kit for Kids said, ‘Online there are cultural sensitivities and differences between what resonates.

“In the UK, peak times for us are 10pm at night – perhaps when the kids have gone to bed and mum and dad have got a bit of time to themselves, but in the Middle East, the shopping centre experience is still key”

‘We use specialists in some markets to help us stay aware of these trends.

Bringing in individuals with these kind of skills to smooth the operational process will free up your time to think innovatively and carefully consider any other potential barriers to entry.

Integrating your own technology

As with any area of your business, integrating technology into your overseas expansion is fundamental.

Inevitably you will have to rely on products and services created and provided by others to a degree – i.e. the likes of Google Analytics, Facebook etc. However, in order to create a global business model that shows how differentiated your offering can be, it’s essential that you position your own technology at the heart of what you do. I don’t believe you can run a global business without some element of bespoke or proprietary technology at its core.

This was a common theme that emerged from our report; the investment that many SMEs had made in building proprietary technology to compete and achieve international success. For example, Shaun Loughlin, managing director at sportswear company FreestyleXtreme stated that, ‘Managing stock efficiently is absolutely key to our business model, so we built a bespoke system that absorbs supplier stock control feeds (over 100, maybe more). When we launched we looked at existing technology and it either didn’t exist or was too expensive for the size of our business, so we built our own. It allows us to operate competitively and respond rapidly, as we are in control of our own system.’

Anyone looking to expand and grow a business in a new and unfamiliar territory always has to carefully consider the challenges in front of them, and do the right homework before taking the plunge. But, for any SME business leader looking to export overseas, it’s definitely a risk worth taking if you’re willing to seize it.

Luke Smith is the co-founder and CEO of marketing agency Croud