UK SMEs need more support to export, shows survey

Better support could help more business to export, after it has emerged that many are still reluctant to work overseas.

With the UK returning to growth and business confidence rising, it makes sense that many companies are seeking to consolidate their positions in domestic markets. But given the growth in some promising economies worldwide, firms may well be able to capitalise on rising demand in key export markets. Yet it appears that many firms still need some encouragement to consider expanding abroad.


new poll of over 1,100 firms by KPMG and YouGov shows that as many as 36 per cent of small businesses currently have no interest in exploring their options overseas.

Kevin Smith, senior partner for KPMG’s national market practice in London, said that the figures were not surprising given that many are wary after surviving the financial crisis. However, he also said the attitude is “short-sighted”, since global demand for British goods and services is so high.

The poll shows that in many cases a lack of familiarity with potential target markets is the root of the issue. The most popular reason cited for not wanting to look overseas was complex legal regimes, which suggests that access to honest and detailed advice on the requirements of each market could go a long way towards encouraging small firms to look beyond the UK.


The second most popular reason for reluctance to export was a lack of strong networks with foreign organisations.

That’s an issue that could be solved with more accessible and regular networking events, as well as effective use of social networking sites such as LinkedIn. Government trade offices overseas could even help to facilitate relationship building.

The poll was conducted to coincide with Export Week, where UK Trade and Investment will provide advice and support to small and mid-sized firms to promote growth overseas. More than 6,000 businesses are expected to get involved in as many as 90 separate events.

Among medium-sized businesses growth appetites were greater – just 20 per cent said they were not interested in foreign markets. But these companies are also less likely to generate revenue from beyond the EU than their European counterparts. Some 17 per cent of UK medium-sized companies made money outside of Europe, compared to 25 per cent of German and 30 per cent of Italian firms.

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