British SMEs look overseas for growth as business confidence returns

A study conducted among small businesses directors in the UK has found that 43% are looking at regions outside the country to grow their business. Just over 2.5 million SMEs see growth opportunities for their businesses beyond the border, as confidence is thought to have surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

The study, conducted by Hitachi Capital, shows particularly significant rises in the percentage of SMEs in the media, transport and distribution sectors looking overseas for growth opportunities, with the neighbouring EU considered as the easiest target.

Some 46% are looking towards North America, while 23% are targeting Australia, following international trade secretary, Liz Truss’s recent free-trade deal there.

London-based SMEs were found to be almost twice as likely to rely on opportunities overseas than other parts of the UK – notably Wales (29%), East Midlands (32%) and the West Midlands (37%).

Joanna Morris, head of insight at Hitachi Capital Business Finance said that continued progress in lifting travel restrictions underpins building confidence after a “torrid time” for many small businesses.

“While quarantine regulations were an essential measure in keeping us all safe, they have inevitably impeded the ability of many small businesses to make deals, scout opportunities, expand a team and, ultimately, to secure growth. This has had an impact on both the growth of individual enterprises, but the UK economy as a whole. While technology has enabled businesses to continue to operate, there have been limits to what is achievable when face-to-face meetings aren’t an option,” she explained.

“The easing of travel restrictions is welcome news for small businesses for so many reasons. As confidence levels continue to return, more and more plans that had been pushed back can now be given the green light. Confidence breeds confidence, and with this comes the ability for small businesses to plan beyond the pandemic to a five, 10 or 20 year horizon.”

Research was conducted by YouGov among a representative sample of 1,232 decision makers in small businesses during the first week of July 2021 across a range of industries.


Latest travel list changes (Source: UK Government)

Austria, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have been moved to the green list.

Bahrain, India, Qatar and United Arab Emirates have moved to amber. (The fully vaccinated amber rules now also apply to France.)

Georgia, Mayotte, Mexico and Reunion have moved to red.

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