Small Business Column: SMEs need to look beyond borders

In this week’s Small Business column, Kehlan looks at why the push for businesses to export is justified and why SMEs need to look beyond borders.

The great adventurer Thor Heyerdahl was once asked about his travels and crossing borders. “Borders?” he said “I have never seen one, but I hear they exist in the minds of some people”.

When I first started writing about small business in Ireland, for what seems an age ago, I lambasted the powers that be on their handing out of incentives to exporters like confetti.

At the time I railed against the fact that many businesses were struggling and the Government was contributing heavily to a two-speed economy. But since then I have found that concept to be on the wane (the export part, not the two-speed economy part.)

We have always considered ourselves to be a small country. ‘The best little country in the world in which to do business’ they tell us. But it is our size that has driven exports to be one of Ireland’s greatest assets in recent years.

People will talk about pharmaceutical companies and other various major manufacturers as reasons behind this. But if you push past the headlines and delve deeper what you actually get is a major reshuffling of the pack by Irish SMEs. We are no longer bound by where we live, the world is within our reach.

The property bubble was a tragic period in hindsight. The idea that an economy of our size could fuel itself from the inside with something like property will be embarrassing to explain to my kids in the future. The truth is Ireland just isn’t enough.

I recently interviewed a husband and wife couple with a great business story. SalonShop.ie started on intuition and a space the size of a chicken coup. In fact it was a chicken coop owned by a friend. But five years later they are now selling products into the UK and their business has taken the leap forward. It is a great example that we’re just too small. If you have a product to sell then eventually it will need to find roots in foreign soil. When I speak to businesses who do export the first thing they say is that Ireland just wasn’t enough for them.

It has also given us a new window into the minds of business men and women in Ireland. Expansion grows in the air and now we see business being developed specifically with export in mind. That expansion is not just for the manufacturer either. Knowledge is now a key export of ours. Graphic designers are working with people in New York, social media experts are being sought in Japan and software developers have clients in India.

So the next time you look at a map of Ireland you may see boundaries or borders, but remember that they only exist for those who don’t see the rest of the world.

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