Survey of over 4,500 business owners from British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) sheds light on UK plc’s current export activity
Exports certainly seem to be the flavour of the day when it comes to talk of economic recovery. The government has said that it would like to see an additional 100,000 small businesses selling their products or services to overseas markets by 2020, pumping a projected £5.6bn into the country’s coffers in the process. An admirable ambition indeed, but is it realistic? Well, if a new survey from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is anything to go by, we seem to be slowly but surely heading in the right direction. Of the 4,678 businesses surveyed by the BCC in Q1 2013, nearly two-fifths (39%) said they were currently actively exporting their goods and services from the UK. This represents a 7% rise from 2012, when under a third of respondents (32%) were taking the export route to try and grow their business.
What, then, has driven this growth in exports? According to the survey at least, the most dominant factor is the chance to collaborate with overseas partners, such as in a joint venture – 78% of current exporters cite this as a reason for exporting, and this figures rises to 80% for ‘potential exporters’. Interestingly, the second most common reason for exporting is due to a ‘chance enquiry’, and this is followed by having previous work experience abroad (60% of current and potential exporters) and being part of an international business group (54% of current exporters).
Expanding a little on the third of these factors – work experience abroad – there does indeed seem to be some notable congruency between a business owner’s time spent abroad and their decision to export. Indeed, whilst the figure remains unchanged from 2012, it is still rather telling that over a quarter (28%) of the respondents that currently export have lived overseas at some point during their adulthood, and have done so for more than a year. Indeed, this figure drops to 19% for those who don’t export, and are unlikely to do so in the future. On the flipside, 68% of unwilling non-exporters – as we will now refer to them – have never lived abroad, compared to 57% of current exporters and 58% of potential exporters.
Family has a large part to play too it would seem, with 40% of potential exporters citing family ties as likely to have an influence on any decision to export. One imagines this could be perceived as a reason both not to export – reluctance to leave nearest and dearest behind – or indeed the opposite, i.e. having family overseas. However, the former is probably more common than the latter. Predictably, foreign language skills have an additionally strong bearing, with 60% of potential exporters perceiving it as a considerable deciding factor.
“We must secure Britain’s future as a leading exporter if we are to transform our economic recovery from good to great,” said the BCC’s director general John Longworth. “To persuade potential and reluctant exporters to become dynamic, international traders, we must foster the global connections that are so valuable to those looking to export.”
He added: “It is fascinating to see that nearly a third of businesspeople who trade overseas have lived or worked abroad for more than a year. International experience like this builds export skills, so we should look to encourage more people into international placement opportunities, as this would provide global connections to the exporters of tomorrow.”
Obviously, it remains to be seen whether our SMEs’ exporting habits will increase at a rate aligned to what the government hopes – but there is certainly much to be had by selling your wares overseas. It has to be right decision at the right time though, and some companies have had significant success with a UK-centric approach. Needless to say, we will be taking a more in-depth look at exporting very soon. Watch this space.