According to recent figures, over 40 percent of the world's population is now online, accounting for around three billion people. By 2018 it's estimated that a further two billion will have joined them.
We truly live in a global village and for UK businesses everywhere this represents an incredible opportunity to expand and attract new customers, suppliers and employees. In recognition of this the UK government aims to double the UK's exports to £1 trillion by 2020, but for many SMBs overseas expansion still remains a daunting prospect which they would rather forego in favour of 'keeping it local'.
But it doesn't need to be daunting. There's a plethora of highly affordable cloud-based technologies that can help small businesses break down international barriers without sacrificing all of their money, or perhaps more importantly, their time in the process.
Where to start
The first barrier to exploring overseas opportunities for a lot of SMBs is knowing where to begin. Not only is prospecting overseas for a new business challenging, but how can strong personal relationships with new stakeholders be maintained from hundreds of miles away without regular, costly business trips?
No technology can completely replace the benefits of getting out there and physically meeting with international prospects, but technology can play a pivotal role in effective ongoing communications and when following up with new prospects. Whilst you cannot be physically present at all times, the use of videoconferencing and online meetings is a cost effective way to maintain a 'local' presence, helping to deliver the same high level of personal service that would be expected from a UK-based customer or supplier.
A great example of this is Conversion Rate Experts, a UK-based Citrix customer with a largely international client base. Knowing it would be far too costly and time consuming to conduct all of their meetings face to face, they use GoToMeeting to help with international collaboration needs.
In just one week, a member of their team was recently able to hold 39 meetings with clients in 11 different countries, without ever having to leave his office. Online meeting solutions usually offer VoIP phone call functionality as well, putting an end to big business phone bills as an added bonus.
Another issue for many SMBs exploring international opportunities is that of control. When customers and suppliers are many miles away, how do you know what they are doing and how can you keep tabs on everyone?
Power of the web
Despite these concerns, it's important to remember that international business is done between people, not countries. The power of the web makes working with someone in another country no different to working with someone in the same building. Cloud-based file sharing solutions allow data and documents to be shared securely with anyone, anywhere, while online collaborative workspaces make it extremely simple for colleagues who are physically far apart to exchange ideas and communicate as if they are sat around the same table.
Online workspaces can be tailored to the needs of any given project and scaled according to the number of people involved. Access to cloud-based workspaces can also be controlled for security purposes, but is usually completely flexible so colleagues, customers and suppliers can all collaborate within the same workspace if required.
These are just a couple of examples of how small businesses can use technology to break down barriers to international growth, cutting down business miles, data traffic and expenses through intelligent deployment of smart flexible solutions.
Also note that if you are unsure on how to make the most out of the technology available to your business, the government's Growth Vouchers scheme offers small businesses the chance to receive up to £2,000 worth of specialist advice on a variety of key business topics including digital technology. To find out more about Growth Vouchers, head over here.
- Andrew Millard is Senior Director Marketing EMEA at Citrix