Studies have shown that SMEs entering new markets could lead to an extra £141.3bn a year for the UK in overseas sales. Grabbing a piece of this pie is an attractive prospect for many businesses; especially as it can help deal with the potential £40bn per year cost of Brexit. Most businesses looking to take this leap still have quite understandable concerns; from the cost of travel and setting up, to getting their heads around new regulations and visa requirements. Yet the rewards make these worth facing.

In order to maximise these rewards, it’s important to reduce costs and complexity as much as possible. For instance, modern communications can not only reduce the need for travel, but also make the global business a truly unified workplace.

The Cost of Travel

The first obvious benefit of modern technology should be reducing travel costs. The average cost of a business trip to New York has been calculated at £634 per day, while Beijing is a more excessive £900. Moreover, small companies feel that they pay more for business travel: combined with the complexities of booking, arranging visas, and actually spending time in the air or on the road, these costs can add up.

However, while some business meetings or research will still need to be conducted in person, modern communications tools allow employees to have face-to-face virtual meetings on any device, from a dedicated videoconferencing suite to a smartphone. This can provide insight into body language and facial expressions, otherwise only possible in person, meaning delicate negotiations can be handled in a more sensitive and informed manner. Ultimately, this means more can be done before ever having to leave home –which has benefits throughout the whole expansion process.

Pressing the Flesh

Before setting foot in a new market, a business needs to address a number of challenges including; lack of local knowledge, very few, if any, contacts in the new location and the need to find local staff. For instance, how do you meet with manufacturing or distribution partners? Or understand visa requirements when meeting and hiring local staff and suppliers? Inevitably, some travel will be necessary to carry out in-person research, or to shake hands on a final deal. Yet the more that is done remotely beforehand, the simpler the process will be.

This doesn’t only mean performing initial negotiations or conversations with researchers over the phone. It means sharing these findings instantly with everyone who needs them to proceed. For instance, the results of any negotiation, and ideally a recording of the conversation, should be shared with the lawyers responsible for drawing up the eventual contract. Meanwhile the contact details and findings of on-the-spot experts need to be passed around the teams responsible for identifying new sites.

Building on Success

Once the new market presence has been set up, it’s important that all workers in this new location feel as much part of the business as those working from Head Office. Whether a co-worker is at the next desk or the next hemisphere, they should be able to share experience, information and advice quickly, efficiently and with confidence. Communications tools will therefore be a vital part of ensuring that the business can remain a community; whether that means performing company meetings over videoconference, or sharing recipes and birthday wishes over email. At the same time, it’s likely that the taste of global growth will simply increase the business’s appetite: meaning those communication tools will be once more put to use investigating and reaching out to new markets.

Keep it Simple, S…..

What this means is that whatever technology an SME uses to communicate, it must fulfil a number of criteria. It must be affordable; not only in its initial cost, but in ongoing management and support. It must be simple for everyday users to both install and use, as there’s no guarantee that every new location a business expands to will have dedicated support staff standing by. It must be unified, so that whether workers want to email, text, IM or video call, they can do so from a single unified interface. And it must be flexible; able to meet the communications needs of the business and its potential partners and contacts, regardless of local communications infrastructure. Put simply, the ability to communicate with just a simple smartphone and a reasonable data signal is of much more value to the SME with global ambitions than the latest and greatest conferencing equipment.

The global market should be open to anyone. Cost-effective and easy-to-use communication is democratising business, and this should be true whether expanding to the next postcode or the next time zone.

By Paul Clarke, UK Manager, 3CX