Why Now is the Best Time for SMEs to Expand in the UK Market


MAY, 2020

One of the positive outcomes of the events of the past few months is that it is making SMEs rethink the way they operate. At this very moment, owners and management teams are questioning the systems, assumptions, and even the customer-base they have come to rely on.

While this process may be uncomfortable for some, it will no doubt create unseen opportunities and put many businesses in a much better place than they were before the start of the year.

A case in point is the growing interest among SMEs to branch out into the UK market in an effort to increase sales and expand operations.

The UK offers a lot of opportunities to Irish SMEs, especially now that Brexit is officially a reality. Even with all of the uncertainty surrounding its break from the EU, the UK has consistently been a top-ranked country for ease of doing business. It also has a history of fundamentally strong business, legal and cultural systems as well as a growing infrastructure. The UK’s size, close proximity, and shared language, are just the cherry on top.

While the UK government response to the coronavirus pandemic will certainly have a negative short-term impact on the economy, there is enough evidence to suggest that it will be a temporary situation. Many analysts predict a full recovery within the next 1 to 2 years.

3 Ways for SMEs to Start Planning Their UK Expansion

That said, there are several actions SMEs can take over the next few weeks to lay the ground work for their businesses to enter the UK market. Here are three of the most common and cost-effective options:

  1. Conduct market research. Even though Ireland and UK share the same island, they are still worlds apart in some respects. So, before an SME can even consider doing business on English soil, there needs to be some solid market research to establish sufficient market demand.

    Taken further, market research should also include looking for ways to quickly gather and analyze customer feedback and responsiveness. SMEs can then be in the best position to rapidly adapt products and services to match local preferences.

  2. Rethink and re-imagine internal systems. At this stage of the planning, the focus is on a business’ current internal operational systems and procedures. Expanding into the UK market may necessitate an increase in production capacity, changes to the supply chain, a revamping of data storage, management, and security systems and a better collection of collaboration tools– just to name a few.

    Since some SMEs are relying on their own custom legacy systems, any operational changes that will affect these systems will need to be deliberately thought through.

  3. Take advantage of online content distribution and sales channels. The fact that advanced sales and marketing activity can now be conducted online is a big plus for SMEs wanting to test the waters of the UK market. With an ecommerce website based in the UK, SMEs can now do business with their neighboring country while enjoying lower set-up and operational costs, including avoiding the cost of renting a physical location.

At the same time, these businesses can maximize sales and marketing activity by using marketing personalization and intelligent data analytics platforms, as well as giving customers the ability to make a purchase 24/7 and closing sales faster via mobile payments and other transactions. The best part to all of this is that much of this activity can happen instantly, and rather seamlessly on a customer’s mobile device.

Bottom line: looking past today’s headlines, the UK market is a promising opportunity for Irish SMEs wanting to expand their operations. But, the success of this opportunity requires SME leadership to think beyond the horizon line.

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