By Daniel Hunter

The greatest barrier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) trading overseas has been identified as their lack of understanding of foreign markets, according to new research published by BTube, a business content network.

Half of SMEs (49%) claim a lack of experience and expertise trading overseas is their biggest barrier to building an international profile. Many SMEs are also hampered by their inability to build a successful digital platform, through which to engage overseas customers. The research revealed 63% of SMEs in the digital era still lack sufficient digital knowledge to operate online effectively.

Experts highlight issues such as SMEs failing to adapt their business processes for foreign markets, such as using email rather than Skype when engaging with Chinese firms, or not recognising in India multiple personal visits are required to conclude business contracts. Given the greatest challenge facing SMEs seeking to expand their businesses this year is their ability to find new customers (35%), their failure to educate themselves about foreign market opportunities is puzzling.

One of the key issues that may prevent SMEs accessing new markets is their inability to recruit and retain talented and skilled employees. The research reveals for almost a quarter (22%) of SMEs the biggest challenge in 2015 is recruiting and retaining the right people. As the economy gathers pace and wage inflation returns, SMEs will find it increasingly difficult to employ those with experience of overseas trade without paying a significant wage premium.

Kelly Hoppen MBE, Multi-Award winning Interior Designer, leading UK entrepreneur and “Dragon”, said: “We operate in a globalised market, but that doesn’t mean all markets are the same. Businesses need to take the time to understand the nuances of foreign markets, if they wish to take advantage of the fantastic opportunities to tap into new sources of production, distribution and sales. It is no use overcoming the language barrier if you don’t understand the business protocols in the territory you are targeting.”

Peter Cowley, Managing Director of BTube, said: “British SMEs should not be afraid of trading overseas. As with any market, domestic or international, the key is to research the territory by seeking guidance from those that have been there before. If firms invest the time to access the resources available, from the likes of UKTI, they can secure dedicated financial and educational support. Digital platforms can help negate many of the traditional barriers to trading overseas, such as language barriers, but if these are not structured properly making them searchable and accessible they become just more online wallpaper.”