leadership

Is your business sitting on export potential? You’re not alone

Melinda Oliver /

Over half of small to medium businesses think they are sitting on export potential, but few are doing anything about it, results from a new study reveal.

A survey of SME owners conducted by business networking organisation Business Connector found that 61% of businesses believe they sit on undeveloped export potential.

Business Connector’s Mike Boorn Plener told SmartCompany this morning that survey respondents spanned numerous industries, including technology, biotechnology, agriculture and service industries.

Plener says the respondents felt they had products or services that would work internationally; however, not all were acting on it.

“Part of the challenge is that the established programs (grants and export assistance) are for more mature businesses,” he says.

“Traditionally, businesses would (for example) start with a Sydney head office, then move to Melbourne or Brisbane, then go overseas to Auckland before looking further afield.

“For the average fast growing Australian company, this model doesn’t work anymore.”

Plener says that many businesses have products or services that could be exporting from “day dot”, rather than spending three to five years focusing on building local operations only.

“There are not many programmes out there that help people cross that divide,” he says.

He says for businesses with fewer than 25 staff members, the expense of going on a trade mission to scout international export potential could cost around $20,000, and while much of that could be tax deductible, it could be out of reach.

Results from the latest Sensis Business Index released last week showed that export in general increased from 10% of all Australian small businesses to 12% in the last quarter.

Prior to the September 7 federal election, the Export Council of Australia called on both parties to address export issues, stating there was a “dire need” to remove impediments to international trade.

ECA executive chairman Ian Murray told SmartCompany the ECA was “urgently” requesting the government address issues including competitiveness, infrastructure, trade promotion and international engagement.

“I think people on both sides of Parliament are aware of the difficulties facing exporters,” Murray said. “And I think they are also very aware of the need for Australia to become more competitive.”

The Business Connector survey found that 90% of respondents did not have in-depth awareness of the more than 600 potential grants available to assist them. It also found that only 29% of business owners have the necessary contacts to take advantage of government assistance and funding.

SmartCompany has reported on many of the state and federal government grants available to assist small businesses.

The survey also found that 53% of business owners are expecting significant growth in the next two years.

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