Facebook, Twitter Vital to International Small Businesses

A survey shows that 65 percent of SMB internationals use Facebook, 40 percent use LinkedIn and 23 percent use Twitter.

International sales are a vital and growing part of the market for small to midsize businesses, according to a study conducted by The Business Journals. The study found that nearly a quarter of U.S. small firms surveyed said some portion of their business sales came from overseas, while another 6 percent expect to join their ranks-for a combined total of approximately 1 million SMB owners who will be engaged in international sales in the near future.

The report, which details the role and characteristics of SMB owners who are engaged in international sales, also projects that SMB international sales will increase to $2 trillion from $1.7 trillion as more SMB owners look overseas for sales.

"International business isn't just for multinational corporations anymore. With the power of Internet sales engines and the reach of mobile devices, smaller businesses and entrepreneurs in the United States are able to extend their reach beyond our borders," said J. Jennings Moss, Portfolio.com's editor. "These business people, and they're a growing number, see tremendous opportunities for sales growth overseas, and advances in technology have given them a cost-effective and efficient channel to drive their international expansion strategies."

SMB owners who are engaged internationally run businesses that, as a whole, do better than their counterparts that operate only in the United States. Companies that have an international strategy reported average sales of $13.2 million and 32 percent sales growth, compared with $7.7 million in average sales and 20 percent sales growth for all SMB owners. Additionally, SMB internationals are more likely to be involved in manufacturing-23 percent of SMB internationals, compared with 14 percent of SMB owners in total.

According to the study, over half of SMB owners involved in international business are exporting goods, with 62 percent selling products and services over the Internet, compared with 41 percent of total SMB owners. One-third of those doing business internationally, compared with 25 percent of all SMB owners, are considered mobile professionals-those who work out of the office more than 30 percent of the time and believe that wireless services and applications are extremely critical.

"The Internet has had an enormous impact on how SMB owners are doing businesses internationally, with 79 percent relying on the Internet as one of their most valuable business tools," said Godfrey Phillips, vice president for research at The Business Journals. "At the same time, our study illustrates that SMB internationals are using cutting-edge technology and products to a greater degree than SMB owners at large, with 59 percent of them staying connected to their businesses on their computers, smartphones or iPads for more than eight hours a day."

The survey found social networks are another prevalent business tool, with 58 percent of SMBs that do business overseas incorporating social networks as part of their business marketing programs, compared with the 49 percent of total SMB owners. Within the SMB internationals, 65 percent use Facebook, 40 percent use LinkedIn and 23 percent use Twitter, compared with the larger SMB owners with 59 percent using Facebook, 31 percent on LinkedIn and 15 percent on Twitter.

The Business Journals conducted the study from November 2010 to January 2011, and more than 2,223 SMB executives with one to 499 employees were interviewed. The focus of the report was on companies with between five and 499 employees