Promising export intentions shown by smaller businesses

The number of UK SMEs investing in trading overseas has almost doubled over the past 12 months, research finds.

The latest SME Confidence Tracker from Bibby Financial Services highlights that while the main focus for investment in Q3 is staff training (35 per cent), an increasing number of businesses are gearing up for international trade and showing strong export intentions.

The report, which tracks SME sales performance, investment intentions and confidence, finds that 15 per cent of SMEs invested in export activity in Q3 this year, compared with just 8 per cent in Q3 2015, signalling an increasing appetite among smaller businesses to shrug-off Brexit concerns and search for growth beyond their domestic market.

Also, more than a third (37 per cent) of SMEs say that the UK’s vote to leave the EU has not impacted their businesses, with a further 37 per cent believing it’s too early to tell.

Global chief executive for Bibby Financial Services David Postings says, ‘It’s clear that SMEs want to get back to business after an unsettled first half of the year and it’s encouraging to see more SMEs looking overseas to unlock growth.’

The latest findings reveal that 11 per cent expect to see declining sales in Q4. More than half (51 per cent) of UK SMEs believe the decreasing value of the pound is a significant threat to their business over the next 12 months, despite a weaker pound providing opportunities for exporters.

More than one in five manufacturers (22 per cent) say they have invested in overseas trade over the past three months, up from 15 per cent in Q2 2016.

Postings adds that while many SMEs are concerned about the falling pound, there has been a range of positive data over the summer that show a resilience in the UK economy, with many firms now taking advantage of the fall in sterling to build their export capability, particularly those who manufacture within the UK.

‘Although more businesses are investing in international trade, the majority remain focused on domestic trade only. While former Chancellor George Osborne’s ambition of doubling UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020 is highly unlikely, there’s more that can be done by both the public and private sector to help SMEs find growth opportunities overseas.’

Much rests on the government’s trade negotiations both within and outside of the UK but for the time being, he adds. ‘The businesses we speak with tell us their priorities are to get on with their jobs and put their capital to work during the final months of the year.’

Further reading on export intentions

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

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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