Huge opportunity to double number of small business exporters

We have published a comprehensive report exploring the way small businesses interact with the global export market. ‘Destination Export: The small business export landscape’ highlights key characteristics and drivers of small firms that currently export and, crucially, the potential exporters of the future. The focus on potential exporters offers insights into what more could be done to move the dial on growing the number of small firms selling overseas.

The proportion of small businesses exporting, one in five, (21%) has remained static for many years. One of the key findings of this report is that the number of small businesses currently exporting is matched by those that would consider exporting (21%). This points to the huge potential to double the number of small business exporters. In order to tap into this potential, the Government, the private sector, the finance industry and business associations including FSB, must now focus on providing effective targeted and tailored support.

The most common challenge facing small firms in exporting is finding customers, followed by marketing their product to overseas customers. For those currently exporting the most common challenge remains foreign exchange rates. While for potential exporters, there is a pervasive knowledge gap to overcome — one in five small firms that would consider exporting do not know where to go for support. This report also found there are issues around confidence in trading overseas and an assumption by some small firms that exporting is not for them. Yet there are clear benefits with the average annual turnover of an exporter (£935,921) more than double that of a non-exporter (£390,028).
 
Our exports report has been researched and written against the backdrop of campaigning around the EU referendum. Given the UK’s decision to leave the EU, ‘Destination Export’ could not be published at a more uncertain time. Maintaining a stable and secure trading environment for small businesses must now be the priority.

The EU is by far the dominant export destination for small businesses with 93 per cent of exporters selling to countries within that trading bloc. But our report does point to signs that newer entrants to the export market are attracted to a more diverse range of destinations, especially emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East. Those offering support must seize this opportunity boost this trend and diversify the export market further by helping to provide market knowledge and practical information on logistics, delivery and translation services.

Current Government-backed support, particularly UKTI services, have made some headway with exporters. Our survey showed that of those who accessed export support, over a third (37%) used support provided by Government. But this report recommends one key way for UKTI to help maximise the chances of exporters getting approached by customers overseas. It’s Exporting is Great website allows UK businesses to search for export opportunities but there is potential to create an online platform allowing businesses to show their wares to overseas markets and increase their visibility.

We’ve made a number of recommendations to help more small businesses start to export or at least think that exporting is for them. These include busting a number of myths that some businesses are too small to export, looking beyond just the financial benefits and promoting the wider reputational benefits that exporting brings whilst simplifying the support available.

We also make some practical recommendations where policy can be changed including supporting more start-ups to start exporting and ensuring that small businesses continue to have simple access to the Single Market in any EU negotiations.

The full list of our recommendations is in our Destination Export report.

Do you export or considered starting exporting? We’d love to hear how your experience has been and what more you think can be done.

You can let us know by sending an email to simon.hanson@fsb.org.uk