Private companies need to do more to help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) go global, according to influential British business figures who attended the FedEx SME Export Report Roundtable. Exporting has significantly changed as a result of the digital channels, posing new challenges and opportunities for smaller businesses.
FedEx Express recently hosted an exclusive roundtable with 10 influential British business leaders representing SMEs and business bodies, including British Chambers of Commerce, British American Business, Start-Up Britain and Enterprise Ireland. Delving deeper into the global opportunities, challenges and solutions influencing today’s exporting landscape, the roundtable discussed how they can assist SMEs and aspiring entrepreneurs looking to go global.
In today’s world, almost anyone can create an online shop with little investment and go global almost overnight. However, according to the roundtable delegates, it is no longer enough to just have a website. SMEs need to be creative and utilise different platforms to connect with and capitalise on a global customer base.
The rise of mobile commerce (m-commerce)—buying and selling products and services through handheld devices—has meant computers and e-mail are becoming obsolete.
“People are walking around with an office in their pocket,” said Edward Clarke, managing director Hub Operations for FedEx Express in the UK.
Social media platforms also allow businesses to target particular countries and demographics with the click of a button.
Technology plays an even larger role when considering Generation Z. Currently in their teens, this generation will be many SMEs’ customers in the very near future.
Clarke acknowledged that 11-to-15-year-olds are looking at new marketing types, particularly digital, and have an expectation for online shopping to be a fun as well as an enjoyable experience. As a result, SMEs need to harness the technology available now to ensure they appeal to this customer base in the future – putting on the pressure to stay ahead and remain competitive.
The roundtable felt that government advice and online support only goes so far to help these businesses export, and SMEs should be able to turn to corporations to develop fresh opportunities.
In this digital age, it remains critical for SMEs to physically travel to new markets and have face-to-face contact to help them develop fruitful relationships. Trade fairs and missions allow SMEs to establish new relationships and meet new customers, and this ease of access is more difficult when businesses are on their own and is where organisations need to step in and help.
“SMEs with an online presence are almost propelled on to a global stage overnight,” said Clarke. “New technology and technological advancements have drastically evolved the exporting landscaping, providing a raft of new opportunities that have not been possible before. SMEs need to take advantage and capitalise on developments to stay ahead and remain competitive. While there’s a whole host of advice available for smaller businesses, private businesses, including FedEx, have a big role to play in supporting SMEs starting and growing their global journey, passing on the baton and providing invaluable guidance.”
Key insights from the FedEx SME Export Report Roundtable include:
- Brand Britain continues to exert a powerful influence globally. SMEs should utilise British values when exporting—being polite can go a long way.
- Business sustainability practices are becoming an expectation for many consumers. However, SMEs should be mindful about passing the additional cost on to their customers.
- SMEs should not starve their UK consumer base when exporting. There are always highs and lows when going global, but having a local base can mitigate some of the risk.
- SMEs should continue exporting, despite the vote to leave the European Union. In fact, it places more importance on SMEs focusing on their long-term strategy, not just on the short-term.
- Trade discussions and exporting should be more joined up. SMEs should not wait until trade deals have been implemented before exporting, but seek out opportunities
- SMEs should pursue markets or “soft spots”, which could provide them with fruitful opportunities. For businesses at the start of their exporting journey they should start looking for a way in and develop trade partnerships.
To read an overview of the FedEx SME Export Report Roundtable discussions, visit here.
FedEx SME Export Report Roundtable Panel
Ed Clarke – Managing Director, UK, Ground Operations, FedEx Express, the world’s largest express transportation company; Rebecca Burn-Callander (Roundtable Chair) – Journalist and former Enterprise Editor and Business Club Editor for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph; Aaron Newland – Director, Brontie & Co, an artisan chocolate maker, producing high quality, raw, vegan chocolate; Oli Barratt MBE – Co-Founder of Start-Up Britain; Anastassia Beliakova – Head of Trade Policy, British Chambers of Commerce, a network of 75,000 businesses of all sectors and sizes, collectively employing five million people; Nicola Swift – Managing Director, We Only Want Nice Things, a food consultancy business working with producers, retailers, restaurants and food brands; Paul Jobin – Founder, Snugs, unrivalled quality custom moulded earphones and earplugs; Jeffries Briginshaw – CEO of British American Business, an exclusive transatlantic business networking, communications and advocacy group for c-suite executives and SMEs in the UK and USA; Lee Langford – Research Director, Harris Interactive, a full-service, digital custom market research agency; Maeve O’Neill – Trade Development Executive, Enterprise Ireland, a Government organisation responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets