Looking abroad to grow small businesses after Brexit

The potential impact of Brexit for the UK’s businesses, both large and small, has been written about and agonised over for some months now, despite a lack of clarity about what exactly leaving the European Union will look like when it comes to pass.

Will the UK remain in the customs union? How will EU citizens be permitted to travel to and from the UK? And how can the nation’s businesses maintain their strong links with suppliers, clients and customers in the mainland?

These are just a few of the questions that still need to be answered. But, according to new data published this month, the majority of the country’s SMEs are planning to explore new markets beyond the EU – and most are expecting decent rewards for doing so.

The latest instalment of the Global Trade Barometer, which quizzes 1,000 SMEs, one in four are aiming to export to a new country in the next quarter – an increase on figures recorded last year.

The survey also discovered that 30 per cent of small organisations described their feelings about future growth as “positive”, an increase of 5 per cent. Far from the doom and gloom promised by so many other commentators around Brexit, smaller organisations are looking for the bright side, it appears.

Indeed, for those that are already trading internationally, business is booming. Thanks to a stalling pound, exporters are finding it easier to make their goods available to companies abroad: according to the survey, the average SME made £48,000 of overseas transfers in just the first quarter of 2018, an increase of 5 per cent on last year.

In fact, of the ten markets that saw the largest growth in payments from UK SMEs in that period, seven are outside of the EU: Turkey, Norway, Morocco, Singapore, Russia, Indonesia and the UAE.

In order to capitalise on the new opportunities afforded outside of the EU, many smaller businesses are exploring alternative ways of doing business, the survey also found. Switching from traditional banks to specialist fintech providers, adopting worldwide business practices and diversifying their business offerings are all ways identified by those surveyed.

As Jeremy Cook, chief economist at WorldFirst, which produces the survey, said: “These SMEs will be our global exporting pioneers post-Brexit and it is vital that the Government and wider industry does all they can to support them.

“This could mean anything from facilitating connections between UK small businesses and foreign counterparts, to offering advice and training on how to do business and communicate with international trading partners.”

As a buyer or seller of small businesses, this information is crucial. A company that is distressed or experiencing a different downturn could be reinvigorated with a new market or territory to explore.

A prospective acquisition may suddenly open up new doors for growth that are not immediately obvious, such as connections in a fast-growing, non-EU territory, or regulatory approval in a specific country, that could make it a prime target for significant growth.

By the same token, be aware of those selling businesses with exporting potential and ensure that the opportunity being made available to you is of value or interest. What comes with doing business internationally is also a need to protect your organisation against restrictive regulations, currency fluctuations and similar volatile events.

In the end, the UK’s businesses are certainly going to look beyond the EU when they aim to expand and once Brexit has taken place. Just make sure your own company or acquisition is ready to do the same.