Britain’s small businesses have global ambition, says EMMA JONES, but they need more help to navigate the Brexit and Covid puzzles
Emma Jones, of Enterprise Nation, says that Britain’s small businesses are eager to trade with the world but need help getting past the hurdles that Brexit and Covid have thrown up with red tape, logistics and shipping.
There is no shortage of ambition to succeed on a global scale for Britain’s booming army of small businesses.
Once considered the bastion of medium-sized and large businesses with many years of experience, micro firms and start-ups now see export as a key part of their early-stage growth strategy.
A joint report from Enterprise Nation and GS1 UK ‘Delivering the Goods: The Global Ambition of the UK’s Entrepreneurs’, shows a healthy 75 per cent of small firms now see international trade as a viable route to growth.
But they are being let down by chaotic logistics, hours of extra work and eye watering costs that make inroads into even the smallest margins.
When I first started my business support network Enterprise Nation, we evangelised about international trade and led trade missions to the US, Middle East, Europe and Asia that focused on supporting start-ups and micro firms to take their first steps overseas.
‘Exporting is great’ was the Government’s mantra, and we shouted it from the rooftops.
Back then, the barriers we were tackling were largely around market access, perception and confidence.
These firms often believed that no overseas stockist would be interested in trading with a small company from the UK.
Our report shows the reverse of that trend. Their confidence is strong. They know how to get access to existing and emerging markets and customers – and they think nothing of it. That’s a battle half won.
Fast forward to post Brexit and post pandemic Britain and we’re facing a new set of problems.
The increasingly complex logistical landscape is detrimentally affecting their export capability: 41 per cent have experienced expensive and slow shipping, 40 per cent cite complex paperwork as problematic for their business, and a third have had unexpected charges added to customer costs.
It seems the UK’s appetite to export has evolved, but the services to support that drive for international trade have not.
Nor does advice available reflect the needs of this emerging cohort.
The report found 58% of small firms feel that there needs to be clearer guidelines for small businesses, and GS1 UK and Enterprise Nation are calling for increased industry support from all key stakeholders and government to tackle this.
There are three ways the experience of exporting for small businesses could be improved:
1. We need detailed export country-specific guidance specifically written and aimed at the smallest firms. The survey, which was conducted amongst 1,000 firms with between one and 250 employees, found most felt the current guidance was not relevant or did not take into consideration smaller scale operators.
2. Develop the existing DIT Guidance to simplify complex regulatory issues including tariffs, labelling requirements and export documents all in one place and encourage best practice which will be different for large and small businesses .
3. Develop a central hub where SMEs can connect and group together to ‘bulk buy’ and reduce shipping costs. Often services are more suited to exporters of scale selling hundreds or thousands of packets a day, but SMEs are often not selling at this level.
The business opportunity to serve exporting SMEs selling more modest levels of consignments represents a multi-million pound opportunity but this sector is not currently well served.
Five tips to get exporting now
Here are five top tips for small businesses wanting to export their products:
1. Create an account and set up a business page on the Department for International Trade’s (DIT) site for exporting opportunities.
Note, you can sign up to this for free and it acts like a speed-dating site to promote small business products and can also match businesses with overseas buyers.
2. Check out the Internationalisation Fund and its match fund.
3. Register for the Import One Stop Shop in the countries you plan to export to.
4. Sort out your labelling and barcodes to get across borders.
5. Give it a go. Exporting is an iterative process and you are always learning from those around you as you approach and enter new markets. You have to be comfortable with this modus operandi.
Approaching new customers and stakeholders, getting out to market where possible, asking questions and finding ways of working from their home market are all key points to build a picture of the target market and enter it successfully.
> See if Enterprise Nation can help your small business