Despite the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit, and the value of sterling, UK SMEs are still operating in a dynamic and exciting business environment where expansion is a viable option. A recent survey by American Express found that 41% of UK SMEs cite their leveraging of the particular advantages they enjoy as an SME – such as adaptability, innovation and strong customer relationships – as one of their top three strategies for fuelling revenue growth in 2018. And this optimism doesn’t cease when crossing the pond with the recent US National Federation of Independent Business survey reporting one in five SMEs looking to both hire and expand during 2018.
Back in the UK, the American Express survey also states that the majority of those surveyed cite economic uncertainty the most significant threat they face – which has switched from political uncertainty within the same poll just a year earlier. While concerns are ever-present though, this is matched with increased optimism about the opportunities that are out there to trade and form strategic alliances, both in the UK and overseas.
Indeed, developing a specific overseas strategy is a clear advantage for SMEs particularly as it provides a safety net/ pool of new customers and suppliers to fall back upon, as the UK’s departure from the EU draws ever nearer and the weaker pound becomes more attractive for overseas buyers. According to KPMG, almost half of UK exports were destined for the EU in 2017, which demonstrates the dire need to start looking at forging wider global relationships now as a safeguard.
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Naturally, global expansion requires a number of obligations around tax and culture to consider but the typical make up of a successful small business – which incorporates focus, strong working/ customer relationships and consistency – helps provide the ‘front’ required to successfully move beyond our national barriers. Financing is of course, an ever-present issue – and barrier – for some, but again, by utilising the agility and innovative nature of an offering and in-house team, investment can become much easier to source. For those not quite at the stage where they can do this, perhaps 2018 is better used looking at the business and how they can make it ‘overseas expansion ready’ in order to make 2019 or 20 the year when they truly elevate.
Indicating business efficiencies is a key element of driving success within existing efforts but this also helps in demonstrating the potential for an SME to move to the next level where expansion (in the UK or indeed, overseas, is concerned). This comes down to measures like ensuring that supplier relationships are properly managed in terms of spend and consolidating requirements down to the fewest suppliers possible. However, internal measures that drill down the day-to-day costs are always needed, an example of such measures is the use of vehicle tracking devices for employees out on the road, as these are very effective and also demonstrate that employee safety and well-being is proactively being monitored.
While nothing in life that is worth getting comes easily, it does seem that the current business landscape is ‘expansion-ready’ where SMEs are concerned – indeed, the expected uncertainty caused by the current Brexit negotiations actually represents an opportunity for SMEs to forge new relationships that are not as dependent on exiting the EU in terms of tariffs and taxation. So, in conclusion, go forth and conquer!