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Five ways small businesses can go from local to global

Five ways small businesses can go from local to global

The combined force of globalisation and technology has shaped a new world of work. Servicing overseas markets used to be a challenge for small businesses with limited cashflow and resources. However, new technologies mean that SMEs can now reach international customers from anywhere, at any time with just an internet connection. On the one hand, this presents new business opportunities. On the other, SMEs are now competing with rivals from all over the world.

The reality is that business is no longer restricted by neighbourhood or even country. SMEs, especially digital start-ups, can tap into new markets using technology to support or drive their growth strategies. Of course, how they use the technology is as important as the type of technology they choose.

Here are five tips to help SMEs leverage technology and build a global business.

1. Start lean

Tech start-ups are already off to a good start here - particularly if they're providing a digital product. Essentially, they can keep their set-up and production costs extremely low when all they need is a computer and an internet connection. As they expand, they can increase their technology according to their needs using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This allows companies to only pay for what they use – there are no maintenance or upgrade costs. The server is housed off-site and all IT needs are taken care of remotely. This is a huge money saver for a small business with limited funds. With more capital to spend on product development, marketing and sales, it's easier to grow globally.

2. Leverage open APIs

Open APIs provide invaluable insight into customers across the world – and small businesses are benefitting. Companies can open their backend data and make it available for re-use in new application services, allowing them to expand rapidly and evolve their core product offerings. This enables the companies to fine tune their customer experience, making it easier than ever to sell to global customers. Google Maps is a phenomenal example of just how much value can be drawn from an open API. Another well-known example of an open API helping to create multiple businesses is the ride-hailing app Uber.

The FinTech industry has effectively been driven by open APIs. For example, if accounting software didn't have an open API, the bookkeeping automation app Receipt Bank couldn't exist. Small businesses need to bear in mind though that not all open APIs are the same and integration is not always smooth-sailing. It's easy for technology companies to announce a set of open APIs but not back them up with the resources required to keep them up-to-date and in sync with the user interface.

3. Plug into online networks

An open API can give technology start-ups instant access to a global customer base and help them kickstart their business growth. API integration is only a starting point though. While it does facilitate a lot of new business for ecosystem partners in the beginning, it won't necessarily offer ongoing growth opportunities.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs need to engage with global business networks to link with a wider range of opportunities. Social media platforms have made it easier than ever before to connect with the right people, drive conversations, forge relationships and gather intelligence. Belonging to an online business community enables companies to share best practice learnings and important industry information from around the world.

4. Harness the power of the cloud

Cloud-based mobile apps such as Trello or Asana make it easy for small businesses to check in on their workflows and assess how projects are progressing. Dropbox and Google Drive mean that colleagues can collaborate on projects in real-time – regardless of their actual location.

When data is stored in the cloud, it's readily available and easily accessible. This makes it easier for entrepreneurs to work as they travel, and juggle multiple tasks like office expansion and customer retention without dropping the ball.

5. Use global platforms

Fast growing companies face an increased regulatory burden, particularly if they've made the leap and expanded into other markets. Each country a company operates in presents a whole new set of rules and legislation around tax and payroll, not to mention the potential problems caused by trading in different currencies.

Global software platforms can make it easy for tech start-ups to navigate these challenges and focus on growing their business. PaySpace, for example, is a cloud-based, mobile-friendly payroll and HR software solution that helps companies expand into 37 African countries by managing all the local legislative requirements.

Technology and globalisation may have made the physical world feel smaller but the digital world is getting bigger and better every day. For small businesses looking to expand internationally, they need to adopt the right technologies and enlist the best support to tap into all the new opportunities that await them.

By Gary Turner, Managing Director EMEA, Xero.

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