AMBITIOUS businesses should be international businesses. That’s at the crux of what we preach daily to our clients. Business confidence is at a high and it’s the perfect time for UK businesses to expand into fast-growing markets overseas.
International trading however will inevitably throw its challenges, and too often it’s the fear of the unknown that prevents thriving businesses with heaps of potential from going global.
Now when you consider the challenges for doing business abroad, surely language is the biggest barrier? Well perhaps naïvely, this was the misapprehension I very much laboured under, until a recent trip to Boston and New York.
Our friends in the United States may share our language, and to some extent our history, but, when it comes to the matter of bilateral trading, if you don’t get things right you may get a slightly frosty reception (and I’m not just referring to the often Baltic Boston weather).
I had the honour of being invited on a US Trade Mission with the UKTI, the Greater London Authority, and the effervescent Boris Johnson himself. The mission was simple…increase and promote bilateral trade with UK mid-market companies.
Alongside us were 25 companies that sought to capitalise and gain funding from the US marketplace. As a trade partner, I was there to support the businesses in terms of accounting, tax and regulatory issues which are likely to arise from trading overseas.
Admittedly, while I’ve worked across the US and Canada, my real area of expertise is international trade and investment relations between India and the UK; and it’s my relationship with UKTI and my work in India that prompted the invite.
The trip featured a mix of meetings, seminars and networking events with the British Consulate, and our ambitious brands had the opportunity to pitch for major US firms, including JP Morgan and Emigrant Bank.
Sadly, in Boston there was more snow than seminars, and the extreme weather washed out a number of key plans. In New York however, it was down to the nitty gritty; with the small exception of a quick visit to the Empire State Building…it would be rude not to!
New York is an imposing place, both in beauty and business, but it’s the latter that somewhat surprised me.
Our US compatriots absolutely recognise the fundamental value in international trade. But while we speak with the same language, the culture is still very different.
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Our delegates were advised by our US hosts to ‘own the room’ and that they expected a blunt, confident pitch. We were told to leave our British modesty at home. The point is that, much like every country, Americans have their own way of doing business and they do it very well. British firms need to be aware of this cultural difference and change their approach accordingly.
Countless networking opportunities, 90 second pitches and an abundance of MOU’s later…the results were staggering.
Millions of pounds worth of investments were made, and companies on both sides of the pond are still forging deals now, so the trip was unquestionably a success. It does however, highlight a clear gap which more mid-market firms could – and should – be taking advantage of.
The UK is now getting a global reputation for research and development rich businesses and that’s something to be really proud of.
Entering any new market is never going to be easy, but with the support of business advisory firms and the government, it’s clear from our trade mission that the results are significant.
The next few months will be a telling time in the run up to the General Election, and I hope that we see some policy changes that reflect the need to drive British businesses forward in this economy, both domestically and internationally.
Arbinder Chatwal heads up the Indian Advisory Services Group for BDO