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New Paths, New Opportunities for Small and Medium Businesses

By Andy Gosheron, Vice President Field Sales Europe, FedEx Express

I have been with FedEx now for 29 years. One of the bonuses of my job is that I meet new and interesting people all the time.

I spend a lot of time on the road and at events. But it is not every day or every week that get asked to hold speech in such a stunning and remarkable location as the rooftop café of the German parliament in Berlin. On this occasion, I was asked to hold a speech at a FedEx sponsored breakfast event aimed at people who want to set up their own small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

During the event, my colleagues and I held discussions with entrepreneurs from various industries regarding the challenges associated with setting up a company and expanding into new markets. Our conversation partners told us about the early obstacles and challenges they experienced when taking their first steps into self-employment and how they overcame these. The event was one of many being held as part of the "German Startup Week", ­ a nationwide campaign sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics focusing on the topic of starting and running SMEs.
The one message that I took away from the discussions and presentations was: "If you think you have a good idea and you truly believe in it, then you should go ahead and do it ­ regardless of what other people say." In other words, entrepreneurs need to have a lot of courage to make the first step and grow the businesses from day one.
One classic dilemma for SME owners is often the question whether and at what point a company should expand abroad. I think this is a tricky question with no hard and fast rules as it depends very much of the circumstances of the individual entrepreneur. Before rushing in, you need detailed knowledge of the respective market and a logistical setup which meets both the market conditions and the requirements of the respective product.
Success Through Expansion

Sure ­ you need to think this through carefully before going global but don¹t be too hesitant or afraid. After all, studies have shown that SMEs with cross-border activities are more successful than those that only concentrate on their home market. For instance, a recent study conducted by the European Union has shown that these companies create more jobs and are more innovative. Another survey forecasts that the number of companies generating as much as 40 percent of their revenue from international business will increase by 36 percent over the next three years.
In particular, the so-called BRIC countries continue to be attractive markets even though the pace of economic growth has slowed down. It is worth taking a look at Europe as well, despite the economic crisis. According to information provided by the financial service provider GE Capital, the services and financial sectors in the UK, France, Germany and Italy represent the growth markets of the future. The German market in particular remains an attractive choice for companies looking to expand in view of its size, stable political and economic environment and its excellent infrastructure in the heart of Europe. Conscious of this continued strength in Germany, FedEx has opened more than 30 new stations in Germany over the past two years - almost tripling its number of locations.
At the end of the day, of course, there are many issues that companies need to consider when expanding abroad. In my opinion, the three most important issues are as follows: entrepreneurs should conduct an in-depth market analysis to find out if there is a demand for their product or service in the respective market. Moreover, it is essential to become familiar with cultural characteristics and the language of the country, which can be of particular advantage when establishing a network of partners. The third and often very decisive aspect is to have a good knowledge of the national systems of administration.