The Covid-19 pandemic has caused economic growth to plummet and thrown international trade into reverse. However, what it has also done is to force business owners the length and breadth of the country to re-evaluate their business models and, in many instances, tear them up and start again.
We know that a lot of businesses are really struggling just now and lots will, I am afraid, not survive, but the crisis has also seen many, especially SMEs, adapt and find new ways to keep going. For example, those selling food and drink have sought new channels to let customers order online and then deliver those orders. Research by BT and Small Business Britain shows that over one third of small businesses have pivoted to online working, 27% have secured new customers and nearly 20% have moved to a new model of delivery. The business world adapts to survive but as well as the flexibility and innovation already being demonstrated, new markets for goods and services are going to be essential if the economy is to have any chance of quickly righting itself.
That’s why I was keen to see a study of 900 business leaders, commissioned by One World Express, a logistics company, reporting that 57% of private sector firms are now looking at the potential of overseas markets. What was particularly interesting for me (and, of course, I’ll be honest in that Global Connects has a vested interest here!), is that a minority of those firms surveyed already provide goods and services to countries outside the UK, but 45% of respondents said that the pandemic has made them realise they have too narrow a focus on one particular market. For firms with 250+ employees, that figure rises to 58%.
There is a lot of potential here and that’s why we are taking a positive view. It’s easy to regurgitate the terrible statistics showing the decline – both actual and projected – in global trade in goods and services. Instead, let’s concentrate on helping those firms who want to seek new markets overseas. Brexit will provide opportunities as well as threats: it’s those firms that grasp the former and overcome the latter that will be the winners in the next few years.
The One World Express survey supports this view, finding that 44% of businesses are now looking to sell to markets outside the EU as a result of Brexit, although 51% also say they are going to wait to see what free trade agreements can be agreed by the UK before deciding which markets to target.
One other key finding was that not enough firms, whether SMEs or larger companies, have sufficient knowledge about international markets and this can prevent them from seeking new opportunities for export. Sadly, some 43% said they believe exporting would be “too difficult or costly,” while 35% were unaware of the potential support that is available from the UK government.
The British Exporters Association, an industry body representing UK firms, is quoted in a report on the survey as saying, “History has taught us that global or domestic crises are a good time for reflection and refocusing.” Indeed they are. And one of the keys to successful international sales is ensuring that you market your company in the languages of its customers. Which is, to go back to our vested interest, where Global Connects comes in…
Fiona Woodford, Global Connects