Small to medium-sized businesses tend to be nimble, able to act on opportunities the moment they come to light. And while innovators at large firms might have to navigate a labyrinth of management to get their ideas in front of a decision-maker, at SMEs, the innovator and the decision-maker are, often enough, the same person.
Where large companies have the advantage of being staffed with experts in every aspect of international trade, for the SME running a leaner organization, similar specialists might be just a call or a click away, ready to step in on an as-needed basis. One such expert is Leslie Griffin of the newly minted global public affairs consulting firm, Allinea.
After more than twenty years managing international public affairs portfolios for large businesses, Griffin decided it was time to move home to Boston, to work with local businesses that want to expand their international trade opportunities.
And Griffin’s background, working first with Asian Affairs for the US Chamber of Commerce, and later in International Public Policy for UPS, tackling trade advocacy at the highest levels, gives SMEs access to know-how and connections usually reserved for the largest enterprises.
“My hope is that I can partner with smaller companies that may not have a Washington D.C. fully staffed office, and may not have large teams overseas,” says Griffin, “and help them to think strategically about the markets they're trying to go into.” Because it’s not just about what you’re offering. It’s also about how the interests of your business align with the interests of those you’ll encounter in an unfamiliar part of the world… and how you can influence their views of your business.
Government officials might be at the top of the list of those with whom you want to positively interact. But she says, you’ll need the support of other players, beyond the most obvious. “Sometimes it's the people that influence those government officials. Sometimes it's the consumers of the products that the companies are selling. There's a whole range of stakeholders that you need to influence.”
Griffin says that appreciating the goals of those in your target market who can help or hinder you can be important to success. “What are they trying to deliver to their own citizens? How does what you’re offering help them do that?”
She points out that acting in a collaborative fashion, in which everyone benefits, has proven to be a winning strategy. “Over the years that I was working on the broader opening of markets,” says Griffin, “we saw countries in East Asia, in particular, move toward understanding that a more level playing field means competition, yes, but they're going to up their game. So we try to promote an understanding that competition can be a good thing and lead to better services and quality of services, and also safer goods going to their citizens.”
Griffin helps her clients not only make wise decisions about how to proceed, but where. It’s a big world out there. Which new markets hold the greatest promise? In places where the US has existing trade agreements, “That might be an opportunity because that trade lane may not have tariffs or may have certain investment protections,” says Griffin. But it’s also essential to know where trade policy is heading. “Are there negotiations underway that are going to bring down tariffs? Are we entering into a new agreement with a country that might create a more favorable market environment for you as a company?” Griffin says it’s important to keep abreast of issues that might be emerging in a market, so you can cultivate the relationships that are going to be important to success. Develop an understanding of the potential market’s political and economic environment beyond what immediately impacts your own business.
Once you know which market you want to target and who you need to talk to, how do you make your strongest presentation? Griffin has some pointers on that, too.
“Sometimes, people don't realize the assets that they have. Even if you're a small company, you might have some great customer stories that are going to resonate with people.” Griffin suggests thinking about how you can set your business apart from others, whether it’s a “first” that your company has achieved, or it’s the background of the company’s principals.
“Think about the assets that you have that can make you bigger than you are, that can make you punch above your weight-class,” she says. “That’s the message that you want to bring to overseas markets.”
For more information about Leslie Griffin and Allinea, please visit www.allineallc.com
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