Think Internationally

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Think internationally, right from the start, experts advise business owners

"Think and plan global from day one," says Inderjit Singh, CEO and President of Infiniti Solutions. "If you don't, someone else will."

At APEC's Seminar on Accelerating SMEs' Access to Global Markets, the message was loud and clear. The ability to think internationally will be a determining factor in the success of small and medium size businesses.

Contributing to about half of the gross domestic product of their respective economies but to only 30 percent of total exports, opportunities for future business growth are ripe - for those who are able to "internationalise."

The seminar, which precedes week-long discussions among APEC Ministers and Senior Officials responsible for small and medium size businesses, outlined the need for businesses to venture into uncharted seas.

However, explained Singh, this is a challenge to many SMEs who may lack the ability to access professional manpower, markets outside their own economies or the most modern technology.

Referring to a 2006 APEC-OECD study, Singapore's Minister of State, Trade & Industry and Manpower, Lee Yi Shyan explains that "SMEs tend to under-estimate the barriers they will face in overseas ventures due to the lack of understanding of foreign markets."

To this end, featured speakers gave an overview of an emerging global landscape in which Eastern economies would overtake Western economies by 2050 and in which developed economies should not be threatened by emerging economies but should embrace the inherent opportunities they offer.

Best-selling author, Professor Wee Chow Hou - best known for drawing from classic Chinese literature such as The Art of War to inform modern business strategies - addressed the reluctance of some businesses to enter into foreign markets. The right approach, according to Wee, is based on good relationships, strong branding and a knack for balancing speed with prudence.

Rather than charting capital cities which tend to be expensive and competitive, "explore second and third tier cities..." which are cheaper, less competitive, and where you have more bargaining power. And, he says, early-movers enjoy an additional advantage: "You can pick low hanging fruits if you arrive before the others."

Addressing culture-related anxieties, Wee was emphatic that personal opinions should be distinct from business, he advised that businesspeople should "do business, not political reform."

Instead, he offered, businesses should be analytical, aware of political, economic, social, technological, ecological and legal factors and should focus efforts on building relationships and understanding the sensitivities of other cultures.

Ministers are expected to develop a three-year strategic plan to stimulate SME growth.