Europe is still crawling out of the depths of a euro zone crisis that began roughly five years ago–and you need not be Martin Wolf or a hardened official to see that exports can be crucial sources of growth in areas ravaged by unemployment and low demand.
Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees comprise 99% of European Union businesses, two-thirds of its private-sector jobs, and almost 30% of its GDP. SMEs see exporting as an opportunity for growth. UPS’s European SME Exporting Insights study surveyed over 8,000 SME owners or directors across Europe to see how they might better approach exports. Here are the five major trends identified in the report.
1) The end of distance
There is a certain logic to favoring nearby export markets–transporting and protecting goods will likely be easier, and regulations more familiar, especially within a region like Europe. While technology is helping to shrink these gaps, the sheer potential of markets like the US, China, and Canada can’t be ignored. These are the respective top three non-European export targets, though only about half of exporting SMEs do business in each so far. And of course, many SMEs–87%, the report suggests–don’t export at all, yet, which means European SMEs are missing the opportunity to enter new markets.
2) Sector detector
The push beyond traditional export boundaries is not limited to one industry. High-tech, industrial manufacturing, healthcare, retail, and automotive are all represented in the survey. The diverse types of SMEs generally agreed they can enjoy export success by pairing a tight operation (from finance to HR to marketing) with a quality product. This isn’t a world dominated by huge machinery or cars shipments, though. No matter the sector, two-thirds or more of SME export shipments are in packages weighing less than 32 kilograms.
3) Thinking big
SMEs aren’t shrinking away from exports because they don’t feel big enough. Rather, they’re jumping into the export game as soon as possible to sustain growth, combining new tools with native resourcefulness to make waves abroad. They also understand the importance of a wide business network to help cushion any shocks to one particular market. However, the survey suggests that many exporters could improve their understanding of relevant international political developments like the EU/US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations right now.
4) Global reach
The internet makes customers from around the world more likely than ever to find and engage SMEs for business directly. Then, it’s up to the SME to make their new customers’ requests a reality. Many rely on customs brokerage services to minimise delays at borders and improve tracking. Recent logistical advancements allow for the optimisation of transport and processing, right down to the postage and packaging options, before delivering with precision in completely new markets.
5) Clicks and mortar
With an increase in online shopping, it is time for SMEs to take advantage of e-commerce. Estimates put a third of the world into the web of people who can spark the movement of new exports around the world in all sorts of fields, all from their data connections on a phone, tablet, or computer. And each customer is more than another digital flicker–now it’s possible to build deep business relationships virtually.
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This article was produced on behalf of UPS by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.