Half of exporting SMEs wish they’d started sooner

On average, businesses are four years old when they realise they can no longer drive their desired growth from the UK market alone, according to Barclays research. 

This tipping point – the limit at which businesses realised they could no longer achieve desired business growth by trading only in the UK – was clear across all sectors, but at different times. Telecoms, internet, media and entertainment businesses hit their limit at only two years, whereas logistics and retail businesses reached it at three. Manufacturing businesses found they had more time before needing to look abroad for growth opportunities; hitting their limit at eight years.

While the thought of taking a business overseas may seem daunting for some, the research, which surveyed 500 UK SMEs already exporting, provides encouragement for those yet to start. 

Some 52 per cent said the reason they hadn’t exported sooner was because they ‘didn’t know where to start’, thought it would be ‘too complicated’, ‘didn’t think it would work’ or just ‘didn’t think to do it.’ Interestingly, this was most true for businesses in the South East and the East Midlands.

Indeed, the majority now realise that a number of the factors that had held them back were psychological, rather than actual, barriers. Over half of SMEs gave psychological barriers as the reason for not starting to export sooner, with 86 per cent regretting it as they found the experience to be easier than expected.

This is most evident in utilities, logistics and pharmaceutical businesses, where 75 per cent, 61 per cent and 83 per cent of businesses respectively say they wish they’d started exporting earlier.

Simon Nicholson, Head of International at Barclays Business banking, comments: “What strikes me about our research is how successful at exporting SMEs are. This is despite 60 per cent claiming to have ‘fallen into it’, or only looking at it ‘when an overseas customer got in touch’. With such high growth opportunities, imagine the possibilities that could come from taking a more proactive approach! We are committed to helping UK SMEs trade confidently across the globe and call on them today to think more internationally with their business plans in partnership with their Barclays Business Manager.”

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