There was a time when international sales were only reserved for large corporations; it was only they that could overcome the prohibitive transport, regulatory, and marketing costs to sell cross-border.
Over the course of the 20th Century, economic globalisation saw the largest consumer companies (Coca-Cola, Nike, and so forth) become ubiquitous across every continent on the globe. Meanwhile, SMEs were typically confined to the local markets they were first established in.
Today, however, things work very differently. The tools now exist for companies of any size to penetrate overseas markets and build an international customer base.
The playing field has been levelled and global commerce is now, in a sense, democratised. And technology has been the single biggest driver in this change – not just the rise of eCommerce, but shipping software and logistics platforms allow merchants (B2C and B2B alike) to find cost-effective routes to markets anywhere.
Digital marketing: smaller is better
Coupled with the necessary online infrastructure, which nowadays can be as easy as commissioning a designer to produce a website and app within weeks, the main barrier organisations when selling overseas is simply the difficulty in getting the word out about one’s product in a new market.
Thankfully, a company’s small size might be a blessing in disguise when it comes to digital marketing. Online trends and fads may come and go in a matter of days but, when they’re in vogue, millions of customers could potentially be made aware of your company through the right social media post or culturally savvy advertisement.
Marketing departments within large organisations may need approval from varying levels of their internal bureaucracies before taking advantage of an online trend, but smaller businesses are not held back by such restraints. In this way, the internet is finally fulfilling the dreams that its idealists held during the dotcom boom, that of it acting as a great leveller between big and small, powerful and puny, rich and fledgling.
Taking the all-important first step
Despite the assurances outlined above, making the first step into overseas expansion is still a daunting act for business leaders. In May 2020, One World Express released an independent study of over 900 UK businesses, which showed that half (51%) thought that they lacked sufficient knowledge to expand outside the UK and 43% felt the costs involved would be too high.
But both of these barriers need not be of concern, as logistics firms exist who can easily take these issues off of a CEO’s mind. They provide the technology and knowledge necessary to compare the rates of all possible carriers, tariffs and supply chains – ensuring any overseas activities are done as easily, effectively and cheaply as possible.
They can offer tracking software, meaning firms know exactly where goods are throughout their journey to customers, and generally make the process of selling products internationally relatively painless.
As with any major business decision, deciding to expand internationally will require much thought, investment and strategy. But as long as the appetite for overseas growth exists and you approach it with the right mindset, it’s possible to take full advantage of opening up your customer base from just your surrounding area to the entire global population.