When asked for his advice to companies contemplating to internationalise their business in 2021 and beyond, TradeMalta’s Chief Officer, Joe Schembri, delivered a short and sweet reply: “Start small, but start!”
Speaking on this afternoon’s session of the Boardroom, which delved into the work carried out by TradeMalta in its efforts to help businesses internationalise, Dr Schembri further qualified his advice by saying:
“It’s a particular time and companies have the opportunity to look inside, reflect and prepare for better times. Start small, but start. Many times, its probably counterproductive to over prepare. Carry out the necessary preparations, but start – then you will be open enough to receive feedback.”
Apart from serving as Chief Officer at TradeMalta, Dr Schembri is also a lecturer at the University of Malta. He teaches and does research in international business and supports TradeMalta’s CEO with strategy initiatives. He has worked in international marketing and economic development for many years and his research has been published in the International Business Review.
Asked to share about the nature of the companies which seek out TradeMalta’s assistance, Dr Schembri acknowledges that not all companies are interested in going international, as some are designed for the local market, whose operations are local in scope.
Having said that, he continues, many companies are geared towards expanding beyond Malta’s shores, adding that “it is not a matter of what sector or size, it is really more about how innovative the product is or whether the company is willing to go for the long-haul”.
He explains how TradeMalta mainly assists companies based on three pillars: networking, co-financing and sharing knowledge and information.
With regards co-financing, he says that TradeMalta, like other trade promotion organisations abroad, assist in the financing of travel to trade fairs, conferences and other costs associated with such activities.
He adds that through such co-financing efforts, TradeMalta helps companies to reduce the risk of networking activities.
In terms of networking, he says that when companies are not interested in European markets, the organisation essentially uses its institutional network, which it has been building since its inception in 2015, to help companies get in touch with potential partners.
Public-private trade organisations exist in countries across the world, and it is through the connections TradeMalta has with such organisations that it can help companies to find partners in most areas of the world.
In terms of information and knowledge, he emphasises that the TradeMalta portal is a solid source of information, adding that the organisation also provides training opportunities for interested companies.
Has this part year been a good year for internationalisation?
Dr Schembri concedes that it has been a difficult year for TradeMalta’s clients. What has been interesting, he notes, is that according to a survey taken in March of its top clients, most companies where adopting a wait-and-see approach, with the expectation that the pandemic would blow over sooner rather than later.
Another survey taken in September, however, revealed that this strategy no longer seemed suitable. Companies began to adapt and mould their product offering and strategies in order to continue operations under the ‘new normal’.
As for the current situation, with subsequent waves of the pandemic continuing to ravage economies, Dr Schembri says that TradeMalta is still encouraging its clients to network with potential partners overseas. With companies and people in general more agreeable to online meetings, he says that the it is essential for networking activities to be maintained.
To this end, he shares that TradeMalta are organising virtual trade missions where companies can meet potential partners through a virtual platform.
“The feedback gained from these virtual meetings teaches you a lot, and it at least confirms any desk research carried out into a potential market of interest.”