At a recent UKTI course in North Yorkshire, Simon Bedford mentioned the term “micro-multinational”. I was hooked. In a way it summarised what I have passionately shared with my clients: you don’t have to be huge to go global.

So what is a micro-multinational? Basically, a small, often young, business that operates globally. You could have only five staff but each in a different time-zone. You might be working from your own bedroom but sell your products from the UK to Colombia, Vietnam and Denmark. Maybe you are a sole-trader who provides technical consultancy to worldwide clients. Or maybe you make crafts and post them to clients abroad.

Clearly, this is easier now than ever before. Communications, transport and technology make it easier to reach clients all over the world. Social media has a great role to play here alongside the internet more generally. Attitudes are changing as we get exposed to the “world out there”.

Let me give you three examples close to my heart:

Piccalilly – organic and ethical clothes for babies and children, exports to 25 countries through their online shop but also through retailers and agents/distributors. Four staff, 5 years trading, based in Settle (North Yorkshire). 60% of their current sales are exports.

Happy Little Soles – an online retailer of children’s shoes that exports to Spain, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Greece, Slovenia, Ireland, Austria, France, and Germany. How many staff? Guess?… One. Impressive – and achievable.

UV Angel – a team of two from Yorkshire makes unique handmade jewellery and accessories which feature a range of amazing beads that and dramatically change colour depending on UV exposure – and they export to Australia, New Zealand, France, the US…

A very high percentage of micro-multinationals that I have been in touch with recently tell me that they export reactively: they start getting orders from abroad and respond to it however they can, without asking really too many questions. Developing a long-term international strategy is sometimes too far- fetched and unrealistic for these businesses, at least in the early stages of international expansion. However, shouldn’t they be making the most of the demand that is knocking on their door? Shouldn’t they seek to explore those new markets – and more? Possibly – but business owners tell me about their barriers: time, lack of trained staff, language barriers, fear of the unknown, confusion over exchange rates, lack of understanding of international trade processes – all of which can be dealt with more easily than you think…

What would I recommend to someone with a “micro” business about going “global”? Don’t be afraid of it. You can do it from the start if that is what you think is best for you and your business. Do your research – and go for it if that is what you believe in.

In terms of micro-businesses going for South American markets – you can do it. You might be able to compete better than huge corporates. Or you might offer a unique product or service for which there is a huge need. South America is a lot less exotic than you imagine (honestly!), and closer to the UK than you could ever think. What’s more, these are no gloomy times for South America: economies and booming and consumer demand is high. And don’t forget that the UK has a very positive reputation over there: being British sells!

Micro-multinationals show that size doesn’t matter – very small businesses can go global – are you the next “micro-multi”?

Interesting reads in Forbes, Smallbiz  Trends and CNN.

One Response to So what is a “micro-multinational”?

  1. Tim Hiscock says:

    I hadn’t heard this term before, but I love it. It certainly describes a growing phenomenon. One of the first ‘micro-multinationals’ (that’s going to need an abbreviation!) I remember meeting was a language services company run by two guys from a lock up garage in Ho Chi Minh City. The internet was in its infancy, and these guys were so savvy and visionary. They told me about things I didn’t know about such as Adobe Acrobat (this was a LONG time ago!)

    Your article is spot on – you don’t have to be big to be multinational. The digital world is an incredible leveller.