The number of UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) investing in trading overseas has almost doubled over the past 12 months, according to the latest SME Confidence Tracker from business funder, Bibby Financial Services (BFS).
The report, which tracks SME sales performance, investment intentions and confidence, highlights that while the main focus for investment in the third quarter (Q3) is staff training (35%), an increasing number of businesses are gearing-up to export.
Findings reveal that 15% of SMEs invested in export activity in Q3 this year, compared with just 8% in Q3 2015, signalling an increasing appetite amongst smaller businesses to shrug-off Brexit concerns and search for growth beyond their domestic market.
Research also reveals that over a third (37%) of SMEs say that the UK’s vote to leave the EU has not impacted their businesses. A further 37% believe it’s too early to tell.
David Postings, global chief executive for Bibby Financial Services, said: “It’s clear that SMEs want to get back to business after an unsettled first half of the year and it’s encouraging to see more SMEs looking overseas to unlock growth.”
The latest findings reveal that 11% expect to see declining sales in Q4. More than half (51%) of UK SMEs believe the decreasing value of the pound is a significant threat to their business over the next 12 months, despite a weaker pound providing opportunities for exporters.
More than one in five manufacturers (22%) said they have invested in overseas trade over the past three months, up from 15% in Q2 2016.
David Postings added: “While many SMEs are concerned about the falling pound, we’ve seen a range of positive data over the summer that show a resilience in the UK economy. Many firms are now taking advantage of the fall in sterling to build their export capability, particularly those who manufacture within the UK.
“Although more businesses are investing in international trade, the majority remain focused on domestic trade only. While former Chancellor George Osborne’s ambition of doubling UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020 is highly unlikely, there’s more that can be done by both the public and private sector to help SMEs find growth opportunities overseas.
“Much rests on the Government’s trade negotiations both within and outside of the UK but for the time being, the businesses we speak with tell us their priorities are to get on with their jobs and put their capital to work during the final months of the year.”