According to recent research we conducted with YouGov, 6 out of 10 UK SMBs will be trading internationally in just two short years — that’s a 20% increase on the number currently importing or exporting goods or services overseas. This flourishing of the UK economy and rise in confidence among UK small and medium businesses is encouraging, as prominent politicians and business leaders have said that SMBs are crucial to helping the UK make a mark on the global stage.
But how do these statistics apply to the various parts of the UK? The British business landscape is varied from region to region, with bustling urban centres contrasting sharply with export hubs. For the second part of our research, we took a closer look at how UK SMBs in different parts of the country plan to buy and sell overseas. This gave us a good idea of how “going global” looks for businesses across the UK.
London (45%) is joint top of all regions when it comes to buying overseas, using a variety of communication methods to make sure they’re interacting well with a global audience. Of the London businesses that buy or sell internationally, 18% use project management software to communicate with their customers and suppliers abroad.
Yorkshire and the Humber (45%) ties with London in terms of buying outside the UK, with the East of England (44%), South East (39%) and East Midlands (39%) following behind. Wales (19%) and the North East (20%) are least likely to buy overseas, citing barriers such as their products’ unsuitability for international markets (20% Wales / 29% North East) and seeing more opportunity for growth locally than internationally (18% Wales / 22% North East).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, London leads the way in selling internationally, with 59% of businesses surveyed already selling overseas. By far the least likely to be selling internationally are businesses from the North East, citing unsuitable products (29%) or more local opportunities for growth (22%) as potential barriers to trading with partners outside the UK.
So where are they selling? Unsurprisingly, Western Europe (34%) is the most popular region for UK SMBs to sell to on average, with the rest of Europe still featuring but less prominently. The lack of a language barrier with North America could also be prompting trade links for many businesses, with 22% exporting to this area. The same cannot be said of Australasia (15%) and Southern Africa (9%), which have smaller comparable percentages.
Who’s looking to go global?
Despite already leading the way, over half of London businesses (54%) surveyed cite international trade as something that will be important for their business in two years, with 31% considering it “very important”. The South East, as a whole, has the same outlook (43%), while Yorks and Humber is also looking to expand its already strong hold on the international market. Over a fifth (21%) of Scottish businesses surveyed also cite international trade as “very important”, with 16% saying it is fairly important (and 37% saying it’s important overall).
So how are SMB owners making these new international connections? Face-to-face meetings are invaluable for many businesses in the top regions for international trade — London (64%), the South East (52%) and the North West (53%) — where they are helped by their strong transport links to mainland Europe and beyond. Many businesses in the regions are also making use of online meeting software, project management tools and instant messaging to communicate with international partners. For many SMBs, social networks also play a role in growing reach and reputation.
What do you think? Do our findings chime with your experiences? Let us know what you think in the comments and on Twitter!
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,019 senior decision makers from SMEs (businesses with less than 250 employees). Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th – 27th August 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of GB business size.