Dianne Sharp: Improving the UK’s trade performance is central to our future prosperity

Regional director of the CBI says we need more medium sized businesses to consider exporting

Dianne Sharp
Dianne Sharp

The New Year is here and with it the cold winds of January, leading many of us to think about booking summer holidays to head to sunnier climes. But it’s not just holidaymakers considering jetting off into the skies.

As the recovery continues, a growing number of businesses are exporting their products and services. However, we need many more to head to the airport to ensure sustainable, future prosperity for the UK is flying high.

Last year, our exports increased by only 1%, and in the first decade of this century, our share of global exports actually fell from 4.4% to 2.7%.

Mid-market businesses have great potential to reverse this decline and bang the drum for UK plc in established and emerging trade markets, to deliver sustainable future growth and prosperity.

Yet there are challenges for this sector - which although only making up 1% of firms, generates 22% of the UK’s revenue - along the road to exporting successfully.

A lack of confidence and knowledge amongst many MSBs can be a barrier to finding and pursuing opportunities abroad. So, the first step for them is to build up their international know-how and practical knowledge of overseas markets. Firms need to strengthen their international networks and get that essential on-the-ground experience, get to grips with the practicalities of exporting, and recruit individuals with international experience, acumen and understanding.

A significant hurdle for MSBs is playing the part of an international business - thinking and acting like a global firm. This means expanding their footprint in existing markets and growing into new, high potential countries, such as South Korea or Brazil. Developing an international strategy, with serious financial planning, to grow their business and venture into new areas of the world is crucial to this.

Investing abroad is a milestone many mature businesses eventually reach. Using the knowledge they have developed, MSBs need to look at where their investment will be made, and how it will look, carefully tailoring the investment model to each market.

The final stage on the journey is operating as a global business, developing processes to continually grow the business, from expanding business models and corporate structures to helping new exporters.

As we prepare for our CBI Global Growth Event on February 4 being held at the Baltic, I am reminded of experiencing first-hand just how in demand British products are overseas. We mustn’t forget how strong our brand is, and how broad the opportunities are to sell what we do and what we make.

We have a well-earned and deep-rooted reputation, coupled with a brilliant trading history. It’s time for MSBs to make sure that the future shines just as brightly.

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