Less than a quarter of British SMEs plan expansion beyond the UK

Less than a quarter of British SMEs plan expansion beyond the UK

Posted: Thu 25th Apr 2019

According to recent research from DocuSign[1] less than a quarter (22 per cent) of the UK's small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners have plans to expand internationally in the next two years.

SMBs have long been the backbone of the UK economy, accounting for 99 per cent of all private sector businesses[2]. Confidence levels, however, have plummeted - attributable in large part to the trade uncertainty facing the country, mounting costs and red tape[3]. In fact, in March this year, The Federation of Small Business's Small Business Index (SBI) was negative for the third consecutive quarter for the first time in its nine-year history[4].

Start of Something: Lessons in Scale, a new survey of 1,000 SMB owners in the UK, has found that the most significant barriers to expansion are financing (10 per cent), lack of experience (10 per cent) and red tape (10 per cent). Perceived deficiencies in skills are also a key factor holding small businesses back. When asked what skills they regretted not having the most, respondents ranked accounting/finance (22 per cent) and IT/digital (19 per cent) the most highly. They also expressed a reluctance to accept outside investment, which only 37 per cent of those questioned have done.

To accompany the research, DocuSign is also hosting a series of events in partnership with Enterprise Nation to help SMB owners overcome these challenges. Taking place in London, Manchester and Glasgow, DocuSign's Start of Something: Lessons in Scale events will bring together inspirational entrepreneurs from across the UK to share the secrets of their 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. "This is why we are partnering with Enterprise Nation to provide UK SMBs with the opportunity to hear firsthand from successful entrepreneurs how they effectively scaled their businesses, starting with the system of agreement," he added.

"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, national small business support network 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."

To find out more about the events, have a look here.


Media Relations:
Kayleigh Kahlefeldt

About DocuSign, Inc.
DocuSign helps organizations connect and automate how they prepare, sign, act on, and manage agreements. As part of the DocuSign Agreement Cloud, DocuSign offers eSignature: the world's #1 way to sign electronically on practically any device, from almost anywhere, at any time. Today, more than 475,000 customers and hundreds of millions of users in over 180 countries use DocuSign to accelerate the process of doing business and to simplify people's lives.

For more information, visit, call +44 203 714 4800, or follow @DocuSignUK on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.
Copyright 2003-2019. DocuSign, Inc. is the owner of DOCUSIGN® and all its other marks (

Research Methodology
Research partner OnePoll surveyed 1000 respondents between 26th March 2019 and 1st April 2019. The survey was conducted online via the OnePoll website, polling panel members who are paid to participate in surveys. UK based respondents who are SMB Business Owners with between 1 and 200 employees were targeted using both personal profile data and screening questions in order to ensure the correct demographic was achieved.

[1] Survey of 1000 SMB owners (<200 employees) conducted by OnePoll in March 2019.
[2] Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Business Population Estimates for the UK and Regions 2018 (11 October 2018), p 1. SMEs are defined as businesses with 0-249 employees.
[3] Federation of Small Businesses, April 2019.
[4] Federation of Small Businesses, March 2019.

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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