Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face a constant battle for market share. International expansion is a key weapon in enabling SMEs to garner greater market share, increase profitability, and secure long-term business growth.

However, international expansion is not without its challenges. Fluctuating consumer demand, inventory management, and supply chain visibility are all significant challenges that come with moving freight around the world.

Partnering with the right international freight forwarders can offer SMEs a significant competitive advantage and address the complexities of supply chain management and logistics planning. Without the right partners, excessive expenditure can occur, impacting profitability and expansion opportunities.

To be a key player in today’s competitive economy, SMEs must consistently reduce and optimize costs. Logistics planning and supply chain management must be streamlined to increase efficiency and get supply chain costs under control.

To achieve this objective, here are five strategies SMEs can deploy to improve supply chain processes and bring costs down.

1.    Automate many activities with freight booking

When exploring the idea of international expansion, SMEs must leverage the power of freight booking.

While supply chains are inherently complex, global supply chains are augmented with several variables (logistics channels, local laws and regulations, infrastructure, etc.) that bring their complexities.

For SMEs looking to grow, this increasing complexity can be difficult to understand.

Freight forwarders are duly experienced in addressing supply chain and logistics issues. Their extensive network of exporters, importers, carriers, and agents can help SMEs increase the efficiency of their supply chain processes.

From organizing the shipping of goods to shipping route optimization and facilitating payments for all parties, freight forwarders can assist SMEs across every step of the supply chain, allowing management to focus solely on value-added activities.

2.    Consolidate shipments

The consolidation of shipments enables SMEs to reduce transportation costs and shipping prices all the while improving quality control. Consolidated shipping also addresses damage freight risk as it reduces on-again, off-again handling of parcels.

Fewer touchpoints mean significantly lowered risks of damaged goods.

Beyond reducing overhead costs, maximizing groupage transport allows SMEs to realize faster transit times, more control over shipment schedules, and stronger carrier-shipper relationships. The latter is especially critical in ensuring continuous improvement in supply chain efficiency.

3.    Prioritize inventory management

Maintaining too much or too little stock can result in unnecessary excessive expenditure. Having an effective inventory management plan is necessary as SMEs continue to scale. As a company grows, so do the complexities of inventory management.

An SME who successfully manages its inventory will find that the rest of the supply chain processes become more efficient.

To improve efficiencies in inventory management, SMEs must utilize several inventory control techniques like economic order quantity, minimum order quantity, ABC analysis, just-in-time inventory management, and safety stock inventory management.

These management tools drive efficiency across every stage of the supply chain. This results in more informed decision making, better inventory forecasting, reduced wastage, and increased profits.

4.    Integrate optimization software

While every SME will have different requirements when it comes to international expansion, the use of supply chain management software is essential to supply chain planning. Supply chain management applications make it possible for SMEs to reduce errors and better manage the flow of information throughout the entire supply chain.

In shipping and freight handling, implementing such software gives SMEs a comprehensive solution for completing the shipping lifecycle, from receiving to shipping and final delivery. Supply chain management software provides real-time status tracking and alerts for shipment location.

Other software modules that complement a more optimized supply chain include demand forecasts, inventory planning, order processing management, and sourcing and procurement management. The use of data from supply chain software ensures accurate forecasting, positively impacting profitability.

By using supply chain management software, fast-growing enterprises can better optimize complex supply chain processes and embark on a path to digital transformation. Incorporating the entire supply chain into one platform enables SMEs to minimize system-wide costs while achieving higher margins.

5.    Develop some internal knowledge

An overreliance on service providers’ knowledge can be a costly mistake. International policies and shipping regulations change frequently. SMEs that gain no knowledge of the shipping industry can find international expansion to be a frustrating experience.

Freight rates, international trade lanes, transit times, insurance policies, and customs regulations are always subject to change. Failing to stay up to date with the most recent developments in international shipping can result in costly shipping, packing, or transporting errors.

To survive in the shipping industry SMEs must develop some internal awareness surrounding the various procedures and parameters involved. Of course, this is not to say that expertise is essential. Any quality freight forwarder will be more than happy to assist in lending their knowledge of the industry.

It’s worth the time to research the shipping industry.

Knowing how to discuss needs enables SMEs to maximize the value they receive from their freight forwarders and other shipping partners. Staying up to date with industry knowledge can go a long way in negotiating rates and services required.

Being able to effectively communicate needs and requirements allows SMEs to ensure that expanding in the right way. This research can make a big difference in not only the cost-effectiveness of the supply chain but also the company’s profitability.


Like any other expansion project, international shipping requires significant planning. Having a clear operations strategy is necessary to improve the efficiencies of supply chain management and contain costs.

Without a clear supply chain strategy, SMEs can experience disruptions to business operations that affect the productivity and profitability of the company. Fortunately, SMEs have numerous resources available to them to achieve international expansion success.

Working with a reputable freight forwarder assures SMEs of better logistics and supply chain management. Freight forwarders leverage their industry knowledge to further maximize supply chain processes, providing for a better shipping experience at a much-reduced cost.

International markets are prone to change. By implementing these strategies into logistics and supply chain management, SMEs are better equipped to respond to such volatility.

Paul Rehmet is the Chief Product Officer for Shipa Freight. He is responsible for translating the company’s vision into an easy-to-use online freight platform for its customers. In his 25-year career, Paul has held various technology leadership positions with early-stage startups and Fortune 500 companies including Unisys, Destiny Web Solutions, and US Airways.