Top tips for SMEs that are going global

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SMEs and start-ups are facing some serious challenges as they begin to go international far earlier in their development than ever before.

In the global mobility arena we are seeing more and more businesses build a global client base and even invest in a presence abroad – long before they have scaled up enough to cope with the complications of doing business there.

The growth potential for these SMEs is massive but in the first instance they are often unprepared for the global mobility challenges which come with it.  Peter Sewell, Regional Director, Crown World Mobility, provides some advice on how to prepare.

You will often find a one or two-person HR team overburdened with a multitude of tasks, dealing not only with personal issues from staff who are working abroad but also with ever-changing regulation, immigration issues and of course Brexit.

SMEs generally don’t have a dedicated mobility team or programme, or even a structured policy. Perhaps they outsource, perhaps they just muddle through. It’s the hidden challenge which often businesses overlook in their rush to expand and embrace a global market.

Here are some of the biggest challenges facing SMEs in the global market – and tips to cope:

Take compliance seriously: Whether it is understanding international tax rules, coping with ever-changing immigration laws – particularly in the US – or surviving scrutiny for Base Equity Profit Shifting regulations, the potential fines are massive. The length of time it takes to deal with immigration compliance and vetting can be a major problem for businesses too. Businesses need to factor those delays into planning international moves and either seek outside help to keep track with international law changes or invest in internal experts. It takes more than a Google search.



Budget for recruitment: Many businesses look to foreign talent pools to find the expertise they need, but it can be expensive. The UK government has increased the Immigrations Skills Charge applied to workers moving from outside of the EU to the UK, from £1,000 to £2,000 per person per year. This is on top of the costs of applying for a visa in the first place – and in addition to the £600 per person annual NHS surcharge.

Consider the cost of assignment failure: The price of a failed assignment can be huge. It costs a lot of money to send someone to work abroad, only to bring them back a few months later. In fact, the cost of a poorly-planned assignment – leading to a failed assignment – can be four times the original budget.

Build cultural awareness: Failing to understand the cultural landscape and cultural differences of an international business partner can be a real threat. It can not only lead to misunderstandings which threaten business relationships but also see assignees fail to fit into new surroundings.

Value talent retention: Keeping hold of talent is a big part of modern business but international assignments, if not handled properly, can lead to costly mistakes. If SMEs do no look after and support their people abroad then they simply leave or get head-hunted by competitors, even during assignment.
It is clear that SMEs need to think more about global mobility, whether that is looking for help from consultants or putting their own programmes in place far earlier.

The key is in being able to forecast costs and mitigate risks as early as possible. Keeping up to date with immigration regulations is also vital.

For those who get to grips with these issues, however, the rewards can be significant. Companies which are skilled at dealing and working with different countries and different cultures have a big advantage in the modern world – and their leaders are sought after. Global mobility should not be overlooked or underestimated.