Jack Ma CEO and founder of (, the world's largest market place for global trade and host to one of India's largest trade communities shows the road to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) involved in import and export to use the internet to grow their business in the following three ways. 

Use the Internet as a marketing tool :

The Internet revolution is amazing because it is converging both communication and computing. But it is my belief that business in Asia spend far too much time learning how to use the Internet as a computing and processing tool and not enough on how they can use the Internet as a communication and marketing tool. It is too early for SME's to invest in sophisticated Internet supply chain systems. The real immediate opportunity is in communications and marketing.

A few years ago building a company Website was very difficult and costly. But these days, with an investment of just a few hours of their time SMEs can go from a local business to a global business by building a company website. This is the most powerful marketing tool an SME can have. An SME may not have resources to advertise in every trade publication or to travel the world at trade shows. But it can easily build a company website. Alibaba Trade Site is one such place where people can build a company catalog online which is linked to the Alibaba market place. Tools such as these are helping businesses market themselves to the world. 

Use the Internet as a search tool :

For most people going online, the first site they visit is Yahoo ! Searching is still one of the most important functions people use on the web. This is especially true for SMEs. It used to be that SMEs hoping to find suppliers or buyers had to buy expensive catalogs or travel to expensive trade shows with the hope of meeting the right people. Unfortunately, the SMEs did not have a large enough scale to justify these costs, which gave the bigger players an upper hand. But now the Internet has leveled the playing field and tipped the scales back in favour of the small and quick. 

While it may seem obvious to use the Internet as a search tool, very few people take full advantage of what is available online. To keep their suppliers' prices low, companies should always go online and seek alternatives to existing suppliers, which gives them greater bargaining power. 

To keep the markets for their products growing SMEs should have a team that is consistently online looking for new suppliers. In fact much of the groundwork for a deal can be done before the first meeting.

As technology improves, services such as video plant tours and product demonstrations will help eliminate travel time and costs in searching for the right partners and products.

Investing in technology is great. But don't buy technology for technology's sake :

Too many times SMEs invest in the most sophisticated Internet technologies only to find that they did not need such a sophisticated system. The basic value of the Internet for SMEs - search cost savings and marketing improvements can multiply a company's cost savings or market reach by a multiple of 10. But upgrading to the most exciting new Internet technology may only increase efficiency by 5 per cent. In a mature developed economy that 5 per cent makes a big difference. But in developing economies and entrepreneurial settings such fine tuning is not quite as important as the quantum leaps that come from opening a new market.