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


Docusign's Start of Something: Lessons in Scale research explores barriers to growth for UK SMBs and how they can effectively scale.

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.

Confidence levels falling for UK SMBs

SMBs have long been the backbone of the UK economy, accounting for 99 per cent of all private sector businesses[2]. However, confidence levels have plummeted, and it's largely attributable to 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].

New research uncovers barriers to scalability

Start of Something: Lessons in Scale, a new survey of 1,000 SMB owners in the UK, found the most significant barriers to expansion are: financing (10 per cent), lack of experience (10 per cent), red tape (10 per cent). Skill deficiencies (or the perception of them) 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 say they 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"

-- Ronan Copeland, Vice President of Commercial Sales, EMEA and GM Ireland at Docusign

He continued; "Confidence plays a big part, and this is borne out by the results of our latest survey. 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."

Overcoming challenges requires access to advice

“While start-up rates remain high, scale-up rates in Britain are still lagging behind those of other countries."

--Emma Jones, founder, national small business support network Enterprise Nation

"This is not down to a lack of ambition," she said. "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. Fortunately there is a great deal of help out there to take your business international, ranging from advisory services, to outsourcing, to tools that take away the burden of much of the red tape.”

To download your free copy of  Docusign’s Start of Something: Lessons in Scale research, please visit click on the banner.


Research methodology

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

[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. The definition of SMEs in this context is businesses with 0–249 employees.

[3] Federation of Small Businesses, April 2019.

[4] Federation of Small Businesses, March 2019.