Going Global: SME exporting in a changing world

In the first part of our Going Global series, we looked at how data-driven approaches are crucial for SMEs, with the need to analyse and effectively use data topping the priority list for many companies operating internationally. But when it comes to today’s highly regulated environment, how you gather that information in the first place can be one of the biggest tests SME exporters face.

Many interviewees in our Going Global Report are feeling the impact of a changing online and political landscape, and as some of the top export businesses listed on The Sunday Times Lloyds SME Export Track 100, we asked for their thoughts on how to navigate these challenges for greater success abroad and at home.

The looming spectre of GDPR

There’s been undeniable confusion around the right way to implement the new GDPR regulations. Customers and business owners alike feel left in the dark, with almost one in three SME leaders worried they don’t have the skills necessary to manage data in line with GDPR stipulations. This is having a lasting impact on marketing, as we discovered that 65% of SMEs are concerned about their customer data management. With so much more on the line, people aren’t feeling confident about taking risks; for exporters, you are working with people based in other countries at various points in the supply chain, meaning this risk only multiplies.

So what do we do? Businesses are seeing effects that could reach into the long term, with a few companies opting to avoid direct marketing for the moment and find new ways to connect with audiences around the world. Seb Martin of Bryter Research notes that it’s an ongoing collaborative process which could result in changing suppliers if they cannot comply. Furthermore, our report found that ‘data expert’ SMEs feel far more confident about dealing with increased regulations.

The answer is clear, if not simple: if you want to keep up to speed and tap into this confidence, it’s time to educate your business about data, and at the same time implement a strategic data management policy.

Brexit and business

Business doesn’t take place in a vacuum and while GDPR is just one of many challenges exporters are facing, arguably the largest catalyst for change is Brexit. Trade has been one of the central discussion points since the process began in 2016, with around 44% of British exports heading to the EU, whilst the end prices for consumers is a discussion point for brands here and abroad.

63% of SMEs see Brexit as one of the major challenges to overcome in the next three-five years. That is not a positive figure, though challenge is often accompanied by opportunity, as Kit for Kids CEO Jan Van Der Velde sees it:

“For us Brits now, innovation is the number one opportunity – we have great ideas, disruptive technology, great fashion. The British brand is strong. And the advantage for us as exporters at the moment is that the pound is weak – let’s embrace that and make the most of it!”

Uncertainty about the future of British exports once we leave the EU is something brands will have to innovate around. And whether they consider Brexit a top barrier to success or a new opportunity, our interviewees agree that increased access to a global market might just be worth it.

Times are changing

SMEs have limited marketing budgets with a small team often based in the headquarters. Today, when shifting regulations and politics mean British brands should be looking further afield to maintain profitability, it should be a priority to engage with new technologies and new contacts to keep up with the times.


Are you confident about your marketing strategies in the wake of GDPR? Do you see Brexit as a hurdle or an opportunity? Download the full Going Global Report for more insights into taking on everything the next few years has to offer. 

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