Smart businesses are already broadening their horizons to counter Brexit, says David Prosser, Business writer for The Times

Entrepreneurs should rethink their export strategy as the UK prepares to leave the European Union next year. Not because of the obstacles to sell that Brexit poses, but rather the opportunities it presents to companies eager to break away from a too-narrow focus on the EU. That’s the verdict of the many successful British businesses already selling to new markets overseas.

“Europe is now a distant third for us in the list of our most important markets,” says Helen Pattinson, co-founder of Montezuma’s, the chocolate company, whose overseas sales account for about a fifth of its £9 million annual turnover. “The US is a massive market for us, but the Middle East is really important too.”

Similarly, Sally Preston, co-founder of the babyfood producer Kiddylicious, says her company is aiming for £7 million in overseas sales this year, built around three core export markets: Australia, China and Norway. “The scale of the opportunity makes Brexit look so boring,” she says. “In China, for example, there are more people on social media than live in the whole of the EU.”

Tom Davies, whose eponymous eyewear business has overseas sales of several million pounds a year, also believes it is time that more British entrepreneurs looked farther afield. “We’ve just taken a big order from Dubai and have distribution agreements in China, Japan and Hong Kong,” he says. “We’re also negotiating in the Philippines, Indonesia and Korea.”

Many British companies are now getting the message. Government statistics show that exports to non-EU countries totalled £16.7 billion over the 12 months to the end of March, against £15 billion of sales to the EU. And while non-EU exports rose 3.4 per cent, sales to the EU fell slightly. Different markets are attractive to British exporters for different reasons. In the US, it’s the scale of the opportunity and size of the economy. In Asia, with the growth in middleclass consumers, it’s the “Made in Britain” tag that has real appeal as a hallmark of quality. Pattinson says: “Middle Eastern customers are looking for something different and they’re keen to buy British.” Of course, selling to far-flung markets is never straightforward, especially with different rules and regulations, and cultural and language barriers. However, working with local agents and distributors with specialist expertise, or getting support from wholesale customers on the ground, can help entrepreneurs navigate such problems. With or without Brexit, the marketplace for British companies is becoming ever more global.

Jeremy Thompson-Cook, Chief Economist at WorldFirst, the international payments expert says:

One way or another, our relationship with Europe is set to change and the new trading landscape will present new opportunities for globally ambitious businesses to look further afield for new customers and partners. And research conducted for us by YouGov shows that many British businesses are already expanding their horizons. Last quarter 1 in 4 SMEs revealed that they are looking to export to a new country in the next year with many already exploring fast growing economies in Asia, South America and Africa.

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, Europe is likely to remain the UK’s trading partner but commonplace and easily accessed technology is opening up more and more trade options for British businesses. Online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay are great examples, making it possible to sell your products and services to customers from China to Chile from your own home. The evidence shows that it would be a missed opportunity for businesses not to take the plunge and take advantage of increasing consumer appetite for western products in these regions.

The bottom line is that it has never been easier, faster or cheaper to trade internationally. Our World Account, for example, is a fast, free way for businesses to open local currency accounts anywhere in the world so when you do start selling far and wide, you can pay and get paid like a local from your laptop or smartphone. With the global appeal of ‘Made in Britain’ showing no signs of waning, now really is the time to go global.”

This article first appeared in The  Times on June 12, 2018. To find out how WorldFirst can help you compete like a local business, globally, visit worldfirst.com/