Employing almost 5 million people in Australia, small businesses make a massive contribution to the economy and our society.

Small business has long been referred to as the “engine room” or “backbone” of the economy, but many small businesses are not making the most of the opportunities available to them with the growth of overseas markets.

A substantial number of SMEs get to a certain level and then either stagnate or decline. These businesses often run into problems such as financing, but they often also exhaust the growth possibilities inherent in domestic markets.

Australia is an advanced economy with a high standard of living and relatively high levels of disposable income. As a nation, we’re consistently among the ten or so richest nations across any number of measures. However, the reality is that while we’re rich, there’s still only 24 million or so of us. That makes us a fairly small to medium sized nation in terms of population.

What happens when we start to cast our gaze beyond our shores? For a start, in terms of raw population figures we see countries with bigger populations, which means potentially big markets. This kind of thinking is not new.

There’s long been a strand of thinking among Australian economists and business people that we need to look at boosting exports if we want to grow our businesses and the economy. We’ve traditionally focused on primary industries for our exports, with iron ore and coal making up almost half of our $159 billion or so worth of annual exports, but we’ve been a bit patchy with developing exports for other goods and services.

However, what has really changed in the past decade or so is the ease with which you can set up and run an international business.

The globalisation of international markets has been taking place for decades now and a lot of the infrastructure and trade deals that facilitate it are now established and working. Setting up an office in developed countries no longer requires the legal and financial rigmarole that might have been involved even just 20 years ago. There’s still plenty you have to think about, like taxation arrangements and the like, but it is certainly better than it once was, especially with the help of agencies like Austrade.

Another really key thing is that digital technology and the internet have made it so much easier for businesses to move into overseas markets. There are all sorts of turnkey solutions available now to make selling into foreign markets easy, as well as plenty of online channels where businesses can open themselves up to overseas markets.

From software service businesses like Atlassian through to hipster cafe chains like Bluestone Lane, we’re seeing more and more Australian businesses take advantage of an enhanced climate for international trade and expansion.

These kinds of businesses are proving that the Australian economy can produce a lot more than just the stuff we dig up from the ground. We’re well-educated, financially sound, and have a sophisticated consumer and corporate culture – there’s no reason we can’t be transplanting what we do into overseas markets, both developed and developing.

Whether it is purely exporting your goods and services to overseas markets or expanding by opening up offices or representation in other countries, there are many benefits to looking beyond Australia’s shores.

Fi Bendall

Fi is Westpac / AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, described by CEO Magazine as the CEO's Secret Weapon she is one of Australia's most respected thought leaders in the digital space. As an expert and pioneer in digital strategy and with over 23 years experience in the digital / tech sector over three continents, Europe, USA and Oceania; Fi has a depth of understanding unique to Australia.

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