As the world raised a glass to the 25th birthday of the internet on Wednesday, Scottish small and medium-sized businesses keen to exploit the technology's ability to open up markets on the other side of the world gathered at Surgeons' Hall in Edinburgh for a one-day seminar aimed at boosting international growth using e-commerce.

Opening the event, Sunday Herald business editor Colin Donald praised the work of Scotland's business support organisations in spreading the message of the fantastic opportunities that doing business on line can bring both at home and abroad.

"Scottish Enterprise's Knowledge for Growth initiative can help Scotland's economic growth by supporting home-grown firms compete on an international level and expand their business to new markets," Donald added.

The figures are encouraging, with an estimated 40% of Scottish businesses already selling their goods or services online; 48% of them generating 20% of their sales via this channel and nearly one-third achieving more than 50% of their sales this way. Overall, the internet economy was worth £121 billion to the UK in 2010, equivalent to 8.3% of the UK economy, and it is expected to grow at a rate of 11% per year for the next three years, reaching a total value of £221bn by 2016.

Scottish Enterprise ICT specialists Chris Elvery and Alan Linton stressed that it was essential that companies resist the temptation of leaping blindly into the world of e-commerce.

Elvery said: "You've got to research your market and you've got to have a plan, even if that plan ends up evolving along the way."

Linton highlighted the need to work with e-commerce developers with appropriate experience.

He said: "There are a number of checklist capabilities you should be looking for. For example, you should be checking to see if the developer you are considering working with has experience of your specific sector, experience of the overseas markets you are aiming to reach and that the software you are being sold is capable of integrating with the IT systems you already have."

Erica Moore and Sarah Chanter of Edinburgh-based Eteaket Tea have found that a successful digital strategy implementation can open unexpected doors. After just five years in business, the leaf tea merchant is now selling tea to Japan and Hong Kong, and is currently exploring opportunities in Taiwan.

For Eteaket Tea, one of the most important aspects of the success of its online business was the use and development of social media.

The company's tearoom in the capital, eteaket, welcomes tourists keen to sample a traditional British cream tea. This then translates into mentions on essential social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and TripAdvisor. Eteaket further develops its social network with a blog and a newsletter which visitors to the site subscribe to.

Chanter said: "We don't just use our digital channels to push messages out. Social media is an excellent tool for data capture as well. Using analytical tools we can see what potential customers are looking at.

WWe can see where these customers are based in the world and this will inform our future business strategy."

Kirsteen Higgins, operations manager for Smart Exporter, outlined some of the key drivers for businesses moving into international markets, chief among them being the desire to increase sales and boost profits.

"If you only sell in the UK it is a finite market and you may want to spread your risk," Higgins advised.

However, she pointed out that companies starting out in trading internationally may not be fully aware of the potential language and cultural barriers, differing tax regimes and ensuring companies get paid for their goods or services.

"That's what we're here for," Higgins said. "Smart Exporter and Scottish Enterprise together have a wealth of experienced advisers waiting to help untangle the knots."

For further information and support on growing your international sales online, visit the website: