Opportunities for SMEs

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Opportunities exist for the smaller firm in international markets for those that are willing to take this risk. There can be many reasons for a smaller firm's success, for example, having a exceptional unique product or being in a strong financial position with good credit relations. Even an apparent disadvantage, for example, declining domestic sales, can act as an impetus for a successful export development.

McClenahen (1988) suggests that much success for SMEs is based on attitude:

■ Believing that the world is your market

■ The market is out there if you go to find/create it

■ Having an attack mentality

■ How to understand and crack the foreign market, aim to become a 'business insider' in foreign markets, ensure that bureaucracy is kept to a minimum

■ Being led by an entrepreneurial attitude

■ Desire to create something new 'and international is new'

■ Being flexible in their approaches

■ Being prepared to use multiple methods of market entry

■ Buy-in advice/expertise when needed - export houses or freight forwarders can supply the knowledge to shift products.

Hie best SMEs have an entrepreneurial management style, characterized by informal approaches to planning, and heavy reliance on networks rather than bureaucratic planning procedures associated with larger organizations. Other factors which assist the SME to make best advantage of available opportunities include:

Export market development

The best companies keep on the look out for new opportunities. Their information gathering may use national providers of information, consular representatives, and trade magazines to source new contacts. This should be an on-going activity designed to fit in with the strategic objectives of the business.

Agents and distributors

The best advantage of having an agent or distributor working for you in the market is that there is someone in the market who can keep in constant contact with customers and potential customers. Clearly the selection of the right agent or distributor is an important factor. Generally the qualities in an agent or distributor which assist companies to take best advantage of available opportunities are (Watson et al., 1998):

■ Access to appropriate potential customers

■ Understanding of the company's specialties

■ Ability to represent the company in the best possible way

■ Enthusiasm for selling the products

■ Having good technical knowledge

■ Having complementary product lines

■ Regularly communicating with the company

International visits

Visiting potential international markets is a crucial component for the SME. Despite advances in telecommunication opportunities, there is still much to be said in favour of the face to face contact with new or existing customers. Visits allow the most accurate information and impressions of the market to be gathered. It also indicates a degree of commitment to the market and local intermediaries and customers.

Trade exhibition and missions

Trade exhibitions can be costly, but the smaller firm can target and benefit from a presence at relevant events. A major event will attract many potential customers and intermediaries, which allows the opportunity for vital face to face contact. For the experience to be fully exploited an efficient system of follow-up must be in place to pursue contacts made at the exhibition. This may involve a simple phone call, or sending additional information or samples to agents or potential customers. They also provide an opportunity to see what competitors are doing, as well as establishing a market presence, and can be used to create a high profile launch of a new product or range.

Export skills and competencies

Exporters are not all equal. They have different levels of knowledge, different approaches to management, face different barriers and are motivated by a range of factors. Previous studies have assessed the impact of top managers' exposure to international markets, and its effect on internationalization behaviour. Success has been correlated with the extent to which the manager has engaged in international travel; the number of languages spoken; whether an individual was bom abroad, lived and/or worked abroad. In this section we will look at the skills and competencies required by the SME exporter generally, and also as specifically influenced by culture, information needs, the use of alliances and training provision.

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