Less than a quarter of British SMEs plan to expand beyond the UK

Small business owners blame lack of finance, inexperience and red tape equally for unwillingness to expand overseas

New research from DocuSign reveals that less than a quarter (22%) of British SME owners plan to expand beyond the UK.

This is because confidence levels have plummeted, largely down trade uncertainty facing the UK, increasing costs and red tape. In March this year, FSB’s Small Business Index (SBI) was negative for the third quarter in a row – that’s a first in its nine-year history.

Start of Something: Lessons in Scale, which surveyed 1,000 SME owners, found that the three most significant barriers to growth are:

  • Financing (10%)
  • Lack of experience (10%)
  • Red tape (10%)

Perceived deficiencies in skills are also holding small businesses back.

When asked what skills they most regret not having, respondents said accounting/finance (22%) and IT/digital (19%) most highly. They’re also reluctant to accept outside investment, with only 37% of respondents doing so.

DocuSign has teamed up with Enterprise Nation to host The Start of Something: Lessons in Scale, a series of events in London, Manchester and Glasgow. The events will bring together entrepreneurs to share the secrets of their business growth.

“Growing a business across borders is challenging, particularly in times of macro-economic uncertainty. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that many SMBs are focusing their efforts on the UK. Confidence plays a big part, and this is borne out by the results of our latest survey,” said Ronan Copeland, vice president of commercial sales, EMEA and GM Ireland at DocuSign.

“While start-up rates remain high, scale-up rates in Britain are still lagging behind those of other countries. This is not down to a lack of ambition, this is about opening up access to the skills and advice businesses desperately need to clear the common hurdles on the journey towards growth, including international trade,” said Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation.

“Fortunately, there is a great deal of help out there to take your business international – from advisory services, to outsourcing, to tools that take away the burden of much of the red tape.”

Further reading on expansion

Planning for overseas expansion: how to maintain a smooth transition

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.