Having now lived in Singapore for over three years, I feel I can speak with some authority on the opportunities for SMEs in Singapore and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region. The Singapore government is business friendly, it is relatively easy to register a company, corporate tax rates are competitive, employment passes are available should the right criteria be met, and opening a bank account (while a bit more of a challenge) can be done. The government is also tough on corruption, making it one of the safest countries in the world to do business.
So why are Australian and New Zealand SMEs reluctant to invest in the ASEAN region?
Do your homework
While SMEs do not have the resources (capital and manpower) of larger companies, it should not stop SMEs from doing some initial market research, or reaching out to Austrade and NZTE. Attending one of the many trade shows hosted by Singapore would also prove fruitful. Other sources of information of doing business in Singapore include the Chambers of Commerce (Austcham and NZCC); I am currently President of the NZCC.
Singapore government resources are also great. Sites like SPRING Singapore, IE Singapore, the EDB and Ministry of Trade and Industry provide a myriad of resources. Once the initial framework is done, I do believe several Australian and NZ SMEs will find that it is viable to expand to and set up operations in Singapore. It is constantly opening its doors to the world, especially as we enter the era of a sharing economy.
Funding is always going to be a major cause of concern – be it within an SME or even larger corporations. So where should these limited resources go? Rationale dictates that SMEs should focus their efforts on sales people – you need sales people in order to grow. Non-core activities such as accounting and marketing activities, can always be outsourced. Another area where SMEs can save on overheads is office space. There are many co-working spaces in Singapore which are flexible, with no need to sign up onerous (and potentially costly) office leases.
As we shift into a sharing economy, it’s clear that there is no need for SMEs to make a huge initial financial commitment. All an entrepreneur needs to do is invest in market research, speak to people, and focus on a small segment of the market. Your choice of location however, should be well placed globally, where business transactions can be done with ease. This makes Singapore an ideal place for those looking to expand within the Asian region. It is no wonder that the country has won the accolade of being named as the easiest places to do business, 10 straight years in a row.
Are you a start-up / SME looking to expand to Asia? Comment below on your business and share your experiences.