How SA small, medium business can enter new markets abroad

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Tshepo Mohlala. Picture: Cebeli Ntuli
Tshepo Mohlala. Picture: Cebeli Ntuli


When it comes to local customers, business owners are experts.

It’s tapping into new markets that can lead to anxieties: culture, buying trends, export legalities and payment options are viewed as some of the biggest barriers to succeeding abroad.

With the right tools and support, however, this can change, as two South African small and medium businesses recently found.

What to do when international demand comes your way

In October last year, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, collected a bespoke pair of jeans from the factory of Tshepo Mohlala, the owner of Tshepo Jeans in Johannesburg.

In addition, as the #BlackLivesMatter movement took off, Tshepo Jeans also appeared on global superstar Beyoncé’s Black Parade Route, a list of international black-owned small businesses.

The resulting publicity skyrocketed international interest in the company’s bespoke denim products, but Tshepo Jeans wasn’t sure where exactly to focus its attention.

Source: Google Trends Data, February 2019 - January 2020

The first step was to upgrade its website into a fully functional e-commerce site and then to convert the demand into actual sales.

However, as a small company Tshepo Jeans needed to control its budget, develop new distribution channels and decide on the countries in which to invest its marketing budget.

The company started by using Google’s Market Finder to confirm which markets were viable.

It then used Search ad campaigns in the Netherlands, the UK and the US – the countries identified by the tool – to gauge brand recognition, and later demand.

Read: How three SA businesses are using Covid-19 to pivot, adapt and innovate

The results were a ready-to-wear product range and new distribution networks.

Looking for new markets

Similarly, Stoffelberg Biltong had already started looking for expansion into foreign markets and had a fully certified game (venison) abattoir and the internationally accepted food safety accreditation and halal certification.

This garnered interest from an unexpected market: the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

To confirm this interest, Stoffelberg used Market Finder, which also identified that it would be relatively easy to enter the UAE provided a distributor was in place.

The best way to enter a new market is to understand what it’s about.

Serendipitously, Stoffelberg’s existing South African distributors have contacts in the UAE.

As a result, biltong snacks are now available in most airports in the UAE, to the joy of expat South Africans who are introducing their friends to this delicacy.

Future plans include expanding to other countries in the Middle East.

What Tshepo Jeans and Stoffelberg Biltong learnt is that it takes three steps to access new markets – assess, prepare and advertise.

Step 1: Assess where there is demand

Market Finder showcases the most viable markets based on monthly Google searches for product and service categories, demographics and disposable income.

This is useful for small and medium businesses with limited budgets which need to know where it makes the most sense to invest their efforts.

Step 2: Prepare to enter a new market

The best way to enter a new market is to understand what it’s about.

Market Finder’s extensive country-specific guidelines and tips on localisation, logistics and preferred payment methods help small and medium businesses gain this understanding.

Step 3: Advertise to local people

Once you’ve decided on a new market, it’s time to let people know you’re there.

There are far too many signals for any one marketer to keep tabs on all the time, but with Smart Bidding small and medium businesses can meet their conversion and revenue goals, even in an uncertain marketplace.

Seopela is the associate product marketing manager for Market Finder at Google sub-Saharan Africa, while Pillay is digital strategist at Google Sub-Saharan Africa.


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