Growing Globally – Supporting SMEs On The International Stage

Successful internationalisation is often recognised as generating considerable business benefits, which can include increased efficiency, innovation and productivity, whilst also generating growth for the wider economy. However, recent reports have indicated that SMEs in South Africa are not growing and expanding as expected when compared to its international peers.
Growing Globally – Supporting SMEs On The International Stage
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Internationalisation refers to the increasing participation of businesses in international markets. Commonly associated with exporting, internalisation is far broader than just this activity alone. Importing, supply chain participation, establishing business partnerships and foreign direct investment are all notable examples of relevant activities.

Key findings

Evidence from ACCA SME members revealed some of the following insights:

  • Just under half (45%) of SMEs said the main benefit of internationalisation was access to new customers in foreign markets. Increased profitability (35%), faster business growth (33%) and access to new business networks (30%) followed.
  • Both SMEs and Small Sized Accounting Practises (SMPs) considered ease of doing business and high growth potential as the most important factors when choosing an export destination. Geography was seen as less important, which may be a result of new technologies reducing its significance as a perceived barrier.
  • Both SMEs and SMPs recognised foreign regulations as the most significant barrier to internationalisation. For SMEs, the second most important was competition (27%) whilst for SMPs it was foreign customs duties.
  • In terms of the future, SMEs’ international ambitions are focused on building the capacity of their business (45%), building networks in foreign markets (45%) and introducing or developing more products and services to market (44%).

Small businesses' call to action

SMEs see the capacity of their business as the most significant internal barrier towards internationalisation and expansion. This may be linked to a limitation in resources, often associated to either the ability of employees to respond to the workload or access to financial capital.

Accordingly, 45% of SMEs also planned to increase their international activities by upscaling their business’s capacity. SMEs looking to successfully enter into the foreign markets should focus on development across the following areas:

1. Adopt cloud technologies from the start

Providing a valuable platform for future international expansion, appropriate applications will provide SMEs with a real-time flow of information, offering detailed measures across various workflows and complementing existing reporting processes. However, each business will need to adapt their business models and management processes to suit these applications, rather than the other way around.

2. Create a business strategy with global ambitions

Internationalising businesses should ensure relevant activities form part of a wider strategic plan and detailed in specific growth objectives. This could form the basis of agreed relevant working priorities and the investment needed to achieve international growth. Such an approach can facilitate a managerial mind set around international growth to be channelled across the business’s wider operations.

3. Develop the scalability of your finance function

An internationalising SME’s growth trajectory can often be unpredictable, often requiring the business to scale up their operations rapidly in order to meet the demands of suppliers, customers and partners.  It is therefore crucial that SMEs develop a finance function which has the flexibility to withstand these challenges. Building the right finance function early on can provide greater operational agility allowing better management of future challenges.

4. Identify where external advice could support your international journey

It is important to consider where external advice may be able to support businesses international objectives, depending on the stage of international growth reached by the SME. This should be conducted as part of a business’s planning process, such as through an internal review programme or through regular meetings with senior management.

Technology enabled solutions

SMEs today have access to a wide variety of cloud-based technologies that enables businesses to develop their finance function rapidly when internationalising.

In particular, relevant software can help businesses to monitor operations in international markets. Activities such as processing payroll, compliance events and employee expenses can now be managed centrally with the use of innovative software solutions.

This technology also allows SMEs to understand the flows of data within their own systems as well as with business partners and suppliers. This becomes increasingly necessary with the added operational complexity of participating in global value chains.

Working with professional advisers, this data can be used to support the development of one’s finance function which in turn can cater for international growth. This allows for new business streams to develop as external professional insight with these new technologies is required.

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