Should Your SME Expand Internationally?
Part 1 of 3
International Expansion seems like such a “big thing”. But in 2015, it really isn’t – at least, it shouldn’t be. Technology is a great leveller, and it has brought businesses and people closer. We are all interconnected. What’s important is finding relevant people and putting together your “tribe”. The global 2008 slow-down showed us that absolute decoupling was a fantasy. Out of that bleak reality, emerged the global opportunity.
The effects of 2008 were felt differently in various markets, but they all felt the pinch. Our post 2008 world requires one to look towards HIGHLY untapped markets all over the world and understand what makes them interesting and why they are untapped.
The factors that point to long term sluggishness of markets include:
● Markets that are competitive but have a flat or near-flat growth line
● Ageing and retiring populations
● Ageing infrastructure
● Slow population growth
These factors make international consumption and sustainable growth complete illusions.
Japan went through a period in which its GDP dropped dropped significantly in the course of about ten years. Known as The Lost Decade, all of the factors mentioned above were large contributors, despite the fact that Japan is a highly export-oriented economy.
The troubling scenario is when you take notice of the incidents which led to this collapse and compare them to the future of Canada. Baby Boomers will be retiring in the next 5-7 years. Technically, we are facing a Canadian Recession.
Whereas this might pose an enormous challenge to the country as a whole, it also poses great potential opportunity for SMEs in Canada. So how do SMEs use this knowledge to set themselves on sustainable growth path?
In many ways, the choice has already been made. Find new sources of growth or go out of business. It is going to force many SMEs to think differently and venture outside of their “comfort zones”. They must stop relying on a limited amount of more local markets for revenue.
Thus, the solution is invariably going to be international expansion. They will grow via the inherent yet underutilized strengths which have already made Canadian SMEs great. Strengths such as stability, pluralism, liberal environment, multiculturalism and a reputation for being good and competent business managers.
All SMEs should look for means of expansion to stay relevant and sustainable. Without this, it is only matter of time before they start experiencing stagnation.
One recent HSBC report stated that only 10% of Canadian SMEs export their services to other countries, which is incredibly low for a country and economy as large and developed as Canada. This does not paint a pretty picture.
Again, of one million SMEs, only 10% export. On top of that, those exports are very specific, like some construction businesses, some seafood and some Oil and Gas players. There are very few Canadian brands that exist outside of North America (Tim Hortons took the plunge in 2012). There are very few tech or knowledge-based businesses expanding over the board.
The Case for Expansion
Many Canadian business think that trading with the US is utter nirvana. It was an excellent, ambitious plan, that is until about 15 years ago. The US was the largest economy with a huge consumer base. Baby Boomers were in their peak buying phase, not to mention US markets had an unsurpassed ease of access with geography, similar language, culture, etc. The US was attractive.
But, now America is an over-saturated market with a highly competitive, deep-pocketed economy which evolved through a fundamental shift in 2008. Record high unemployment rates caused and will continue to cause negative effects in their markets for many years to come.
Whereas it used to be a great opportunity for larger corporations to enter US markets by buying cheaper assites, it is increasingly difficult for Canadian SMEs to enter the US market (which has pivoted to Asia in order to grow its own economy).
The way we do business is still stuck in the mindset from the 80s and 90s when it was relatively easier to go to US – not because US was an easy market, but because the outside world was large unknown territory. That is no longer the case.
Technology has brought people together. The Internet reduced the gap. Communication infrastructure has made life easier for anyone seeking international growth. We have adopted new tools, but the overall mindset hasn’t changed, thus only 10% of Canadian SMEs export.
In order to avert an impending recession, it’s going to be essential that Canadian SMEs get out of this antiquated mindset and dive into international markets.
Has your business had international expansion experience? Tell us about it in the comments below!