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Small firms look overseas for growth opportunities

17 August 2021

As the travel green list extends to 36 countries, new research has found that up to 2.5 million UK small businesses are looking for ways to expand overseas.

A study by Hitachi Capital has identified the "enormous impact" that lifting travel restrictions could have for UK small businesses. Following changes to the traffic light system for travel - with 36 countries or territories now on the green list - its poll of 1,500 directors of UK small firms has found that 43% are looking at regions outside of the UK to grow their business. It means that a potential 2.5 million businesses in the UK could expand overseas.

The data shows that the proportion of enterprises looking to do business in the UK domestic market has fallen (from 81% to 77%) whilst those looking for business opportunities overseas has gone up - from 41% to 43%. In some sectors there have been significant rises in the percentage of small businesses looking to secure growth from overseas markets - with the media sector rising from 52% to 62% and transport/distribution going from 48% to 58%.

EU countries top the list of regions where entrepreneurs want to do business. Of those looking to expand overseas, 54% are looking to invest in the EU, 46% are looking to North America and 23% are looking at Australia, following the recent free-trade deal there.

The research shows that growing businesses are twice as likely to be considering overseas opportunities than non-growing businesses (66% vs 33%). London-based small businesses were found to be almost twice as likely to rely on opportunities overseas than other parts of the UK.

Joanna Morris, head of insight at Hitachi Capital Business Finance, said: "The evolving progress being made in lifting travel restrictions is another step forward in rebuilding business 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.

"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, ten or 20-year horizon."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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