Getting support when you start to export

To export or not to export? Rosie Murray-West explores the help on offer should you decide to take the plunge and expand your business overseas.

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Exporting  goods overseas is a good way to find new markets and grow your business, but many companies are yet to take the plunge.

New figures from the government show that only 34% of businesses with turnover of over £500,000 have exported goods in the last twelve months. For businesses with turnover under this amount, the figure is likely to be far smaller, with the British Business Bank recently estimating that only 9% of small businesses export at all.

Painful process

James Allum, Senior Vice President for Europe at Payoneer, which provides crossborder payment solutions for businesses, says that MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) find “pain points” when they start to sell overseas.

“When companies venture into global markets, they often face challenges, including navigating regulations and policies, as well as establishing a well-grounded international network,” he says. “Our own research shows that SMEs around the world recognise the potential impact that entering new markets can have on the growth of their business but are held back by various barriers.”

New help available

Because of these challenges, Allum is welcoming a new support package that has been launched by the Institute of Export and International Trade. The package offers training and consultancy to businesses that are looking to export, and businesses can express their interest here and receive a response in 72 hours.

Les Roberts, Business Comparison Expert at business cost website Bionic, says that the new package is different to other help available for small businesses, in that it focuses on the individual needs of each business. “This will equip MSMEs with the tools and the confidence they need to expand and take their businesses to an international level,” he says.

The Institute of Export and International Trade has highlighted a lack of available information for business owners which is preventing them from forging relationships with international partners. Most business owners simply don’t know where to start and although there are currently around 5.5 million MSMEs registered in the UK, less than 10% trade internationally. 

However, Roberts questions whether the package is sufficient, and expects demand to outstrip supply.  Any UK based small business can apply for the programme, but because of its bespoke nature, only 1250 firms will be able to receive help, he says. “This does raise the question, does the £5 million fund go far enough to help the UK’s SME sector expand internationally?”

Other help for would-be exporters

As well as this support package, small businesses can seek other help from government agencies and grants if they want to export.

UK Export Finance can provide government-backed financing packages, while the Export Support Team will answer questions on regulations, paperwork, and other queries within 72 hours on this site. You can also check out webinars from HMRC for more information.

You can also apply for support to exhibit at UK tradeshows and conferences and receive grants to cover your costs, here.

Check the time is right

Exporting can grow your business, but it is also a time-consuming strategy to set up and get right. Small business experts at Dojo, which provides payment machines for small businesses, say that it is important to think about what you want from international trade before making the leap. “Are you looking to increase sales by reaching more markets, outsource production or fill a need with an existing service in a new market? Having clarity on why you’re looking to trade internationally is key to helping you better plan and scale in the long run,” they say.

Roberts, at Bionic, points to figures showing that nearly one in ten of small businesses that had traded internationally before Brexit had pulled out, cautioning business owners to be very careful. “There are signs that post-Brexit trade barriers, like VAT charges at point of entry, are affecting SMEs ability to trade internationally.

Whilst large firms may be able to shoulder the costs, smaller businesses might be unable to cope,” he warns. “Is this the right time to be exploring international trade?”

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Rosie Murray-West freelance business journalist
Rosie Murray-West

Rosie Murray-West is a freelance journalist covering all aspects of personal finance, as well as business, property and economics. A former correspondent, columnist and deputy editor at The Telegraph, she now writes regularly for publications including the Times, Sunday Times, Observer, Metro, Mail on Sunday, and Moneywise magazine.

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