Over 800 business leaders gathered at the SME Centre Conference 2019 to learn how others have done so. Strategies to innovate and grow were discussed. But more importantly, the common foundation of passion, partnership, and people were found to be the keys to unlocking growth opportunities.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
1. Time your expansion plans
Internationalisation must not be rushed. “It’s not as simple as opening a shop elsewhere”, Ms Anna Lim, Founder & Executive Director, The Soup Spoon, said. Timing, especially for new firms, must be right, and should be preceded by the establishment of a strong base in Singapore.
Ms Lim’s vision for The Soup Spoon was to be the Starbucks of soups. She learnt (the hard way) that the market has to be ready for your products before introducing them. First step is to conduct thorough market research and understand the market trends and demands.
The company now works with franchisees abroad closely to have their soups exported from its central kitchen in Singapore to ensure quality and consistency. “The product part can be taken care of here. You just need to get the marketing right”, she advised.
Building strong business connections and networks – especially with those that are aligned to your company’s vision – in markets abroad can help ease entry into new markets. With the support of trusted partners, key business strategies like marketing and pricing can then be identified and implemented from the onset.
Firms with limited resources should start their internationalisation journey by exploring smaller regional markets first. “In big markets, there are also more competitors. Our neighbours are more familiar markets culturally, and they are close as well”, Ms Selena Ling, Head, Treasury Research & Strategy, Global Treasury, OCBC Bank, said.
2. Get employees on board
Digitalisation has a higher chance of success if it is done progressively in consultation with staff, Ms Lim said, recalling The Soup Spoon’s introduction of an enterprise resource planning system for food ordering, which required buy-in from her staff because of its steep learning curve.
“When you have a vision, you need the people to carry the strategy through”, Ms Ling agreed. Employees are your brand ambassadors – they are just as important as your customers. When you are growing your business, it is important to be upfront and honest with them. Communication is key. Once they get on board and push hard for you, your efforts will be multiplied.
3. Digitalise in small steps
“Don’t be afraid to embark on digitalisation”, Ms Lim encouraged the delegates. Companies that have yet to digitise can start by taking small steps. First figure out what is it you want to solve, then look at how technology can help you solve it.
“You can decide how big of an investment to make or how big a project to embark on. And there are many different solutions available”, Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry & Ministry of Education, added.
He highlighted the “Start Digital” scheme, an initiative by Enterprise Singapore and Infocomm Media Development Authority together with local banks and telecommunications providers, that provides simple plug-and-play solutions, as something local firms can start with. SMEs can also leverage the shared resources that Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) provide.
“Technology is a tool, it’s not a silver bullet. People-centric approach remains key”, Mr Chee said, advising companies stay focused on customers and employees while digitalising. “High tech also requires high trust and high touch”, he added.
Companies that are looking for support in transforming the business can approach our business advisors at SME Centres for a chat to identify business challenges and opportunities for growth. Find out how you can have a fruitful business advisory session here.
If you looking to scale your business and break into new markets, Enterprise Singapore’s Plug and Play Network (PPN) has in-market partners that offer market consultation, specialised advisory services, business matching and co-working spaces.