Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are critical to strategic initiatives in an economy; however, their contribution to foreign trade is not as significant. SMEs are one of the principal driving forces in economic development. One of the greatest challenges is the internationalization process for longevity rather than seeing the process as initial market entry. The internationalization process research has typically involved four key constructs: Market selection, decision to enter, entry modes and factors affecting entry modes. Past research has focused on large manufacturing firms. The export of architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) firms has undergone growth, yet there is still significant opportunity for further growth. The majority of AEC firms are SMEs. Notwithstanding assistance provided through international trade missions, organized export firm support networks and information packages by a burgeoning number of government agencies, there are still perceived barriers to market entry and long-term economic sustainability for SMEs. There are a number of problems faced by SMEs acting in foreign trade. This investigation explores the successful initial internationalization process constructs and identifies unique project-oriented sector characteristics. The study identified similarities and differences between two firms that have been exporting to various localities, including Eastern Europe, Africa, Middle East, UK, Asia and South America, for more than two decades. The similarities and differences were identified within eight major constructs: purpose, firm type, market image and design philosophy, entry mode strategy, institutional arrangement, factors affecting mode of entry, market selection and firm strategy in relation to project selection. The primary reasons for internationalization were associated with the firms' motivations related to growth and financial viability. This article discusses the various internationalization processes and strategies intrinsic to each case study and establishes a detailed set of empirical observations from which to develop further a grounded theoretical model of reflexive capability for the internationalization process. This study contributes to the body of knowledge around the SME AEC design service firm's internationalization process, as a dynamic, evolving and continuously adaptable construct for project-based sectors.
- Design management
- Reflexive capability