The importance of thinking global

Commentary by Martin McTague, Policy Director, Federation of Small Businesses

illustration of Martin McTagueOur UK small businesses regularly punch above their weight, and it’s fantastic to see their achievements celebrated. This latest edition of 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain provides a great opportunity to showcase the innovation and creativity at the very root of our economy.

We rely on our small firms to drive growth and create jobs, no matter the economic or political environment. Small businesses with big ideas must be supported in their ambitions by the government and organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). One of the ways we can do this is by harnessing the potential of export.

  • 5.5m - The number of small businesses in the UK

We know that small companies that export are more likely to survive, grow and innovate. At the moment, one in five small businesses is selling their goods and services offshore. But last year, FSB’s research uncovered a promising appetite for exporting among the wider small business population. We found that the number of small businesses currently exporting is matched by those that would consider it.

So, what’s stopping these small firms from taking the global leap? Many of those interested express a lack of confidence in fully grasping the opportunities of trading overseas, or they find themselves limited in capacity, time and resources.

The most common challenge facing small business exporters is finding overseas customers and marketing their product to them. Recognising this fundamental gap, the Department for International Trade recently launched an online trade hub, Great.gov.uk. Efforts like this, which make it easier for smaller firms to reach overseas buyers and
vice versa, are crucial. We want to see more practical advice and specific support targeted at the nation’s 5.5 million small businesses so that they can look beyond UK shores at new and expanding territories.

“We know that small companies that export are more likely to survive, grow and innovate”

As the government embarks on a new post-Brexit global trade drive, small businesses should be front of mind. Nine out of ten of our export members trade with European Union (EU) countries. The single market gives them simple access to 500 million consumers. For a start, the UK must negotiate a bold and ambitious free-trade agreement with the EU so that small firms can continue to trade and operate easily within European markets after Brexit.

At the same time, there are millions of new customers to reach beyond our existing borders. If the UK can secure agreements with new markets, there could be enormous opportunities for small businesses. It is our responsibility – shared with Government and wider industry – to make sure that UK small businesses are ready to compete on the world stage.