Singapore prides itself on having a remarkably developed free-market economy that is booming year after year. This island nation ranks as the 6th least corrupt country in the world, and it has the third highest Purchasing Power Parity the world over (Doing Business, 2011). This healthy economy is mainly attributed to a plethora of state-owned businesses that include Singaporean Airlines and MediaCorp. Moreover, this country is renowned for asset management services as more millionaires and billionaires emerge in this region. This sun-drenched city is dense with millionaires thus its reputation as a haven for the ultra-wealthy (Chatterjee & O’Donnell, 2008).
A flourishing economy is also thanks to foreign investors who flock the country in throes to take advantage of the excellent investment climate. In addition to growing wealth locally, companies are keen to expand their geographical scope and rack in significant revenues in overseas markets. According to the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), 83% of Singaporean companies have business operations overseas, a sharp rise from just 56% in 2016. As well, a National Business Survey conducted in 2017 found that 71% of local enterprises had operations in at least one ASEAN nation and 50% expressed interest in growing further (SBR, 2018).
There are over 200,000 active enterprises in Singapore, and they are the core of the nation’s economy providing millions of stable jobs to an ever-growing workforce. Without these enterprises, the state would plunge into fiscal woes mimicking the economic Armageddon witnessed in 2008. The illustration below shows Singapore’s enterprise landscape.
Overseas growth notwithstanding, over 90% of businesses are in dire need of information regarding compliance with the law of the land and standards for each market. Without proper knowledge and guidance, enterprises succumb to external pressures like a rapidly changing economic landscape. On the brighter side, big and small businesses with a strong strategic direction can withstand the economic headwinds and rise to stardom in their respective industries. As yet another year draws near a close, the burning question remains; how can Singapore companies market themselves overseas? As seen above, companies are making headway, and more success can be achieved in various ways as described below:
Invest Overseas for Survival
At the outset, let us appreciate that even the most robust economies face their share of challenges that often slow or even halt economic growth. Singapore experienced an economic slump in 2015- 2016 and the government was concerned that local companies would bear the brunt.
Furthermore, Lim Hng Kiang, the Minister for Trade and Industry warned local businesses to brace themselves for tough economic times as the slump was projected to extend with no end in sight. Mr. Lim advised business owners to diversify their markets and expand their global footprint to remain profitable. To this end, the government launched a Market Readiness Assistance scheme to facilitate companies in their foray into outside markets.
Mr. Lim made these announcements ahead of the Internationalisation Forum launched in 2016. The forum aims to harness synergies among companies so they can benefit from one another’s strength and expertise. In attendance were over 400 business leaders and government representatives including the Minister for Trade and Industry. The government’s commitment to create and nurture bilateral business linkages is evidenced by the signing of three Memorandums of Understanding (MOU).
During the forum, it was noted that China is the leading investment destination due to rapid urbanization coupled with a burgeoning economy. Both of these factors catapulted this communist nation to an economic powerhouse that is not slowing down any time soon. It was also observed that markets in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia and Malaysia remain favorite destinations due to familiarity. Cambodia and Myanmar are also noteworthy locales that have garnered business interest in recent years (Han, 2016).
SMEs were not left out of the equation; they were encouraged to join trade associations and establish consortiums to boost their scale. SMEs are better off coordinating efforts with multinationals that are already familiar with the terrain and have successfully navigated market challenges. Shifting from the “I” mentality to “we” fosters information flow, solidarity, and more expansive identities for Singaporean companies on the global stage (HCS Academy, 2016). Togetherness is particularly fundamental for SMEs who often struggle with unfamiliar business terrains and bureaucracy that derails their plans or aborts them altogether.
International Enterprise (IE)
As per an International Enterprise (IE) released in early 2017, local companies registered a much higher revenue from overseas than what they accrued in overall revenue. More specifically, income from abroad increased by 4.2% in the previous year and industry pundits derive that this figure will grow even higher (Lim, 2017). This impressive statistic paints a promising picture for local firms that wish to expand beyond the island. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hauled in 53% of their revenue from overseas outlets based in neighboring China and Vietnam.
Edward Lee of Standard Chartered Bank (SE Asia) notes that investing in the west is not as highly favored as investing in the east. The latter region presents more business opportunities and what’s more, it is primed for exponential growth in the coming decades. Singapore projects increased investment opportunities in the digital sector and infrastructure whose demand is soaring by day. The chief executive of IE Singapore, Lee Ark Boon, pledged that the government is devoted to supporting enterprises so they can bravely face risks and uncertainties that abound.
IE Singapore is ramping up its investment support efforts by welcoming new partners to the fold with who they will arrange in-market workshops for SMEs with a particular focus on Southeast Asia. Human Capital Singapore along with Ngee Ann Polytechnic will be part of these workshops aimed at providing local market insights, laws of the land, company registration procedures, and such. Ngee Ann Polytechnic hit the ground running by organizing a workshop with business owners in Myanmar. During this meetup, a few things became apparent; Myanmar values the association with Singapore, and the country is in dire need of professional talent. More so, while there’s an acute eagerness to expand businesses, lack of technical know-how is thwarting progress (Yahya, 2017).
Further afield, IE arranged a similar event to Ghana and Ivory Coast to help a local manufacturer- Arhcicom- to set up shop in Ivory Coast with the help of a domestic partner. These workshops are yielding excellent results, and efforts are afoot to expand the offerings and include more SMEs in the following years. Subsequent seminars will cover hot-button topics like infrastructure, e-commerce, and of course, the Internet of Things (IoT). The latter is a promising avenue that has been making waves for the past decade or so and industry watchers predict that over 50% of new enterprises will utilize this concept by 2020. Companies will also learn how to apply for tenders and secure land and lots for setting up production plants.
Revitalize Startup Scene
Enterprise Singapore (ES) is yet another organization that is working tirelessly to help businesses grow. With partners like MAS, EDB, SG Innovate, and a host of incubators and angel investors to boot, the country’s startup scene is effervescent as more and more hip-millennials take the plunge in the unknown. Startups cover a range of industries from financial technology to biomedical. Enterprise Singapore works to bolster the startup ecosystem and collaborates with Global Innovation Alliance to establish innovation nodes abroad (Boon, 2018). This system has two-fold benefits; Singapore enterprises get a channel to overseas markets, and international startups get an entry point into this island country.
Startup SG plays an instrumental role in promoting this city-state as a startup hub rivaling the likes of Croatia, Slovakia, and other centers in Europe. SG Tech Grants launch growth of proprietary technology and ignites the growth of legions of startups in this niche. SG also provides first-time injection of funds- up to $30,000- for budding entrepreneurs who are found to have viable ideas. More so, SG is keen to attract the right kind of talent to work in Singapore through its EntrePass system (Enterprise Singapore, 2018). The figure below illustrates how Startup SG is improving the health of startups in the country:
In 2017, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced regulatory changes that would strengthen financiers, so they are in better shape to fund budding entrepreneurs. Since these finance companies serve the role of banks by issuing customized loans for SMEs, the government has relaxed some restrictions. On their end, they must bolster corporate governance and risk handling so they can adequately serve the domestic SME industry (MAS, 2018).
Thanks to these interventions, micro-enterprises, and SMEs now have access to sound business advice through the SME business portal and the Enterprise Infoline. Simplified assistance programmes like the Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme (PIC) help micro-enterprises enhance their operations. Companies that have their sights set on China and other promising markets have access to the Plug & Play Network that offers co-working spaces and enterprise matching partners. Enterprise Singapore has demonstrated unwavering support to micro-businesses and SMEs, and so many of them have headed to this guidance and internationalized operations (Boon, 2018). More specifically, ES realizes these goals by doing the following:
- Spurring innovation through Centers of Innovation, productivity centers, and personnel
- Offering guidance and a bit of hand-holding micro-enterprises and SMEs on their journey to internationalization
- Providing different kinds of grants such as Capacity Development Grant and Single Enterprise Development Grant to go towards upgrading and relevant endeavors
- Utilize the PACT Programme to push for collaboration among enterprises such as in exploring investment opportunities across borders.
The figure below shows how the expansive global footprint of Enterprise Singapore that comprises 35 international centers that are already up and running, locations for Global Innovation Alliances, and Plug & Play partners.
Singapore has a flourishing digital marketing and social media industry and more companies are embracing this as the new way of creating brand awareness and recruit clients. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a proven tactic for driving traffic to websites and what’s more, you can measure return on investment using the analytical tools therein. Soaring demand for digital marketing services is driving the increase of agencies with seasoned marketing strategists.
Noteworthy agencies like Active Media, Asian Trade Press, Ate Ideas, and a slew of others. Companies like Ate Ideas are so adept at their work that they attract high-level clientele like Louis Vuitton and Unilever. Clickr Media specializes in online media planning and campaign management and goes a step further to offer tailored solutions for SMEs and startups. Conversion Hub specializes in search engine advertising, user experience testing, and it is among a group of few agencies that have an in-house focus group facility.
With such an impressive list of digital marketing agencies, it is no wonder that companies in Singapore are taking full advantage to push their brand locally and abroad. A report dubbed ‘Digital in 2017′ indicates that 70% of Singapore citizens are active social media users and mainly through phones. Considering that the global average stands at 34%, these figures are staggering, to say the least (Tan, 2017). The popularity of social media is thanks to the ridiculously high internet connection speeds of 18.2 Mbps against a global average of 6.3 Mbps. On a global scale, social media uptake continues to increase and presently, there are 2.8 billion users and 91% of these users access these sites via mobile devices. Going by these statistics, companies must pursue digital marketing if they want to capture the attention of consumers at home and abroad.
The figure below shows the internet, mobile, and social media users around the world.
Case Study: FinLab’s Accelerator Program
While there is no shortage of successful startups in Singapore, significant challenges are thwarting international expansion. Most notably is the mindset of the startup owners; do they comprehend what it takes to be a startup, what resources do they require, and how can they tap into them? These are essential questions that FinLab, a joint undertaking between SG Innovate and United Overseas Bank (UOB), is addressing with its accelerator programme. In April this year, seven enterprises were chosen for a digital revamp that will transform these businesses and give them a fair chance to penetrate the cutthroat overseas market. The lucky winners are International Labs, Lih Ming Construction, CK Department Store, Siam Coconut, Acepac International, Straights Dental Group, and Angel Supersmart (Shiao, 2018).
In conclusion, Singapore’s startup and SME scenes are bursting with groundbreaking ideas, but there’s more work needed to bring these ideas to fruition and elevate them to the global stage. These ambitions call for intervention in business education to alter the skewed perceptions of entrepreneurs. Since great ideas don’t market themselves, digital marketing strategies are not a luxury but a necessity.
Speak to MediaOne on how you can get access to international markets like Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Hong Kong and globally. We have the experience to assist with government grants and getting you immediate to long term exposure in order to test markets and obtain new income for your company. Call us at 6789 9852 or email us at [email protected].
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