British small businesses looking towards overseas expansion

By 2025, 880,000 (17 per cent) British small businesses plan to expand overseas – an increase from the 10.8 per cent of small businesses currently taking advantage of additional export revenues.

After growing their workforce (39 per cent), exporting is the preferred way that small businesses see their expansion plans going in the next ten years, according to research conducted by business e-lender Everline and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr).

The stats vary according to regions, with almost twice as many London small businesses (30 per cent) planning to export.

Businesses in the North are least likely to take their business overseas (11 per cent), followed by the South (excluding London) at 13 per cent and the Midlands (17 per cent).

The industries surveyed that are most likely to engage in exporting over the next ten years are IT and telecoms (29 per cent), manufacturing (26 per cent) and media, marketing and PR (23 per cent).

At the other end of the export scale, finance and accounting firms (7 per cent) have low intentions of expanding abroad, as do retail outlets (14 per cent) despite online opportunities making it much easier to scale internationally.

Russell Gould, COO of Everline says, ‘Although the number of small businesses planning on expansion overseas is hugely positive, more could be done to encourage small businesses in this area, particularly outside of London.

‘The latest Annual Business Survey figures show that a third of medium-sized businesses and 41 per cent of large businesses currently take advantage of export growth. Small businesses should work with industry bodies like the UKTI to see what opportunities exist and get advice on how to grow their business overseas.

Cebr economist Sam Alderson says, ‘The government has rightly highlighted the need to boost the UK’s level of exports. However, their target to increase annual exports to £1 trillion by 2020 looks likely to be missed by quite some way.

‘While the increase in the number of small businesses looking to expand overseas is encouraging, the share remains relatively low. Given that tapping into the export potential of the UK’s small business community could provide a major boost to exports, encouraging small firms to look for opportunities overseas should remain a key priority in coming years.’

Dr Catherine Raines, chief executive of UKTI, welcomes the rise in small businesses looking to export. She says, ‘Exporters of all sizes are more productive, innovative and resilient to economic downturns than non-exporters; they achieve a stronger bottom line; boost their reputation and profile; and are more likely to stay in business.’

Further reading on international trade

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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