Turbulent times require an international solution

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Nationalism is resurgent. Brexit continues to be the known unknown, but is looming. The pound has fallen and shows no sign of recovering much. Inflation has started to rise. So have business insolvencies. We’re heading into the unknown of Brexit. We’re in the throes of an election that is at best diversionary.
All the indicators are scary, but despite them, much of British Business is doing what it does best. Keeping calm and carrying on. Waiting for “clarity” before taking any new action or making any investments or changes. Which is, of course, courting disaster.
As you’d expect me to say, the current uncertainties make internationalisation a top priority for businesses, especially those in the services sector. However, I’m coming from a different angle here.
The Brexit priority seems to be cutting immigration. Potential European immigrants, however, aren’t waiting for a change of policy – they’re already going somewhere else – and many who are already in the UK are looking for opportunities to leave. This is a problem for almost all businesses, even those that don’t currently employ any (and it’s not just the health service that’s dependent on foreign labour).
Fewer immigrants means it will be more difficult to hire. Some politicians seem to think that there is a vast pool of domestic labour that is being neglected by employers who would rather hire foreigners. Any business person could tell them that there is no prejudice against nationals in any company here – the vast majority of that pool of unemployed Britons either can’t work, won’t work or are unemployable. To solve the problem, we welcome and hire young, talented and hard working people from Europe and the wider world.
Following basic economic rules, a reduction in the supply of such people will increase the cost of all labour, as employers are forced to offer higher salaries to attract the staff they need from a scarcer offering. Deliberate cuts to profitability are limited, so, coupled with the higher prices now seeping through from exchange rate changes in 2016, we are bound to see an accelerating inflationary spiral.
One solution is to hire abroad, in countries where the skills you need are more plentiful and costs are lower. I’m not advising outsourcing – that takes away your control and generally increases costs – but setting up a subsidiary operation.
Entrepreneurs in the services sectors tend to shy away from this idea, or limit their interest to offshoring back office jobs. But why? The businesses that they serve, especially the younger and more dynamic ones, don’t expect local friendly face-to-face chats with their solicitor or accountant. In the modern world, everyone’s used to online access and video conference calls, and is happy if it means the service costs less or has other advantages such as 24/7 service.
Moving a lot of the work offshore to your very own subsidiary, retaining the core skills and entrepreneurship here, can ensure sustainability for the business and increase profitability.
Making new sales to an international market from that base can also guard against currency fluctuations. Companies already exporting services can, by moving the centre of delivery away from their home country, avoid any new trade barriers and guard against negative and nationalistic sentiments that may arise in their existing markets (think “America First”). Similar benefits can be had by manufacturers moving final assembly abroad.
Done the right way, creating a new overseas subsidiary can be quick and cheap to set up. In most cases, it could be trading within 6 months and be self-financing in the first year. Come on, small UK businesses, what are you waiting for?

Don’t freeze! Expand!

Watch For Wildlife. Large SUV in Front of a Deer in Deep Forest at Night. Road Danger at Night. Deer Crossing. Wildlife Photo Collection.
Deer in the headlights!

Business hates uncertainty. We’ve been seeing real and scary indications all year through that global trade from the UK has been getting paralysed, and now it seems likely that the USA could be slowing down as well. All of this is driven by uncertainty over the future – in the case of the UK, caused by Brexit, in the USA by the election of Trump.

The brave words of UK politicians do not seem to be feeding into business activity. A survey by a manufacturers’ organisation, EEF, shows most businesses freezing or reducing investment, saying future uncertainty is the reason. A report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants points to an expected slowdown in domestic sales, so even if exports increase because of a weaker pound, the overall business outlook is fragile at best. The rising costs of imports are making employers cautious about spending more on new hires and increasing salaries, and most expect that salaries will rise slower than prices, which would mean living standards drop in 2017. Yet another report from Hitachi Capital says that 42% of large and medium-sized UK firms cancelled or put off investing following the Brexit vote

It’s not unusual, of course, to read about British businesses being reluctant to invest in plant, machinery and training – that’s been a recurrent theme for many years. Sadly, however, we’re now seeing businesses not investing in international expansion (or any expansion). Last month I attended  the Global Expansion Summit in London – one of the best-organised events of its type in years – but only a tiny minority of the audience represented businesses ripe for such expansion; the bulk were service organisations looking for business.  Anecdotal evidence points to low audiences in other events targeted at established businesses.

I see this “wait and see” attitude as a terrible mistake.  I’m not into nostalgia, but I think my own experience is relevant here.

Back in 2006-07, when no-one saw the 2008 crash coming, I worked on setting up subsidiary businesses in Australia, Japan and Brazil. All of them were initially very small, and intended just as customer support centres to solve time zone issues and provide a foothold for potential future expansion. The total setup costs were small, and operationally they were cost-neutral as we saved on labour in the UK and USA.

It turned out to be remarkably fortuitous. When, a couple of years later, business dried up in the UK and the USA, we switched sales effort to Australia and Japan, where economies were expanding. We moved backroom operations to Brazil, where costs were a quarter of those in the UK. Result? Global turnover and profits both increased by 50%.  We now had a small multinational valued at more than double the original UK-only business.

I’m not saying that there’ll be another crash – but I do advise all business owners to plan international expansion now. Not only is there no need to wait to see what happens – it would be foolish to do so.

There are great opportunities for so many businesses – and exporting is only one of them. Manufacturers setting up assembly operations in other countries can benefit from free trade agreements already negotiated to sell to a wider region. Most medium and larger companies can benefit from setting up service centres, not only from much lower costs but also a greater availability of the skilled labour that seems likely to become much scarcer here. Those lower costs and high skills can enable some companies to perform R&D that they simply couldn’t otherwise afford.

Whatever the reason, companies benefit from cushioning against risks of recession and exchange rate volatility – and, most importantly of all, massively increase their valuation for that inevitable eventual IPO or trade sale. The answer to all this uncertainty isn’t to wait and see – it’s to expand overseas right now.

by Oliver Dowson, CEO, International Corporate Creations Ltd.

My 3 enduring fundamentals of successful entrepreneurship

Technology changes, but the Art of Business doesn’t.   Methodologies come into and out of fashion, and get expressed in different ways, but the fundamentals of success are always the same.  My “Top Three” were instilled in me by one of my first employers when I was in my early twenties – and since then, I’ve validated them by reverse observation – the entrepreneurs behind every small business failure that I’ve personally witnessed since then have failed on at least two of these points.

Total commitment

This doesn’t necessarily mean working 7 days every week, but it does mean at least thinking work every day.  It’s essential to always be available – pick up every call, and answer every email, whether it’s day, night or weekend.  The best opportunities are often unexpected and come up at crazy times. Unfortunately, there are very few entrepreneurs who are both successful and lucky enough to be able to maintain that aspirational work-life balance.

Time management

Plan every day in advance to make at least a little time for everything.   If it’s quick, do it now.  Never ever let a day pass without doing at least one constructive thing to generate new sales.   Insist on quality but don’t aim for perfection – assign sufficient time to do each task well, but don’t keep polishing.  Don’t end up skimping on the next task – it could be the one that makes your fortune.

Humility

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll spend a lot of your time selling.   Potential customers don’t like hard sells and they particularly hate exaggerated claims.  You’re human and your product or service isn’t perfect – admit it.  Just aim to be the best person you can, managing the best company you can establish, selling the best product your company can make – and remember to ask everyone, especially every customer, how you could improve.

 

by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations

Iceland beats England

A lesson for British Business

To add to all the disruption and apparent chaos that the country has descended into over the last few days, soccer fans are shocked – or at least disgruntled – by tiny Iceland’s defeat of mighty England in the European football cup yesterday.

What happened there?  Pundits were united in saying that the key factors were the commitment and enthusiasm of the Icelandic team. It proves that with determination and a good plan, even the unlikeliest of the teams can succeed.

There’s a lesson for British Business here. A disappointingly large number of companies in the UK do not expand abroad, limiting their international activities to exporting via third party distributors or perhaps outsourcing some labour-intensive activities such as accounting or call centres. Quite apart from reluctance to invest and fear of the unknown, I still meet many business people who believe that “we do it better here at home”.

Just as with football, overseas business subsidiary teams, especially those based in developing countries, often overtake their British HQ staff in terms of enthusiasm and commitment. This is particularly true where the company has had the foresight (and some would say bravery) to hire highly skilled individuals to perform strategic roles in the globalised company.

All over the world you can find skilled, qualified professionals determined to prove their worth. Put them into a new international subsidiary operation, and your demonstration of commitment to their country will be repaid many times over with their contributions to your business. Expansion is Great!

by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations

It’s business as normal in Brazil

… and a good time to grasp opportunities

Reading the press and watching TV news covering the current impeachment process of Dilma Roussef, you might think that Brazil is descending into chaos.  But for Brazilian companies, and for 99% of the population, it’s very much business as usual.   And for international companies, now is a great time to grasp the nettle and exploit this market.

I’ve just returned from meetings with several recent start-ups in Brazil, and can vouch for the continuing high level of enthusiastic confidence that they will achieve great economic success.   Nobody is fazed by the political situation – almost everyone in business is looking forward to Dilma going, even if so many other untrustworthy politicians will remain in office, as it’s a first and big step towards improving the country.

It’s true that the economy has nose-dived in the last year, but this is more down to the depressed mining sector, that has become increasingly reliant on the Chinese market, which has largely dried up.   The spark that came with the discovery of huge oil reserves under the sea off Rio has dampened more because of the fall in oil prices than the “car wash” corruption scandal at Petrobras.

Unfortunately, the corruption scandals have further discouraged foreign direct investment and business expansion in Brazil.  The reality is that corruption is largely off the map for most businesses.  I’ve set up, managed and grown several companies there since 2006, and have never in that time even seen suggestions of bribery or false accounting. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist – when it comes to government or very large corporate contracts, clearly it does.   I can see how some Brazilian accounting practices, such as allowing small businesses to work on “Lucro Presumido” (presumed profit) could support it.  However, I believe that international businesses starting up in Brazil can be confident that they won’t get involved in any way.

Confidence in Brazil has picked up a great deal in the last few months, as evidenced by the improvement both in the exchange rate and the stock exchange (see charts).  The exchange rate is still around half that of 3 years ago, and looks to have stabilised.

Whilst this – in addition to tariff barriers – can make the Brazilian market unattractive for most exporters, it’s very good value now for setting up in-country operations such as Shared Service Centres, in/out-sourcing, and local manufacturing for the MERCOSUR countries.

The overwhelmingly young workforce is increasingly well-educated, and it’s easy to hire professionals in most sectors who have very good English.  In my experience, productivity levels can be impressive.   There are some interesting barriers to overcome.   Brazilian employment laws are archaic and byzantine, all staff are “unionised” (but not in the sense understood in other countries), annual salary increases are mandated, the paperwork can be formidable.  However, all these can be addressed in a straightforward way, with some professional help, and the advantages of having 3 or 4 professionals for the price of one definitely outweigh the disadvantages.

It’s also one of the most pleasant countries to live, work and do business.   If the weather alone doesn’t lift one’s spirits, the enthusiasm and “can do” attitude of the Brazilian people will.

 

Brazil Stock Exchange Index

Brazil Stock Exchange Index

 

Brazilian Real Exchange Rate

Brazil Exchange Rate

 

 

by Oliver Dowson, CEO, ICC – International Corporate Creations

(Graphic Brazil Stock Exchange Index – courtesy Google)
(Graphic Real Exchange Rate – courtesy Yahoo)

 

10 questions to ask when locating your overseas SSC or insourcing operation

by Oliver Dowson, CEO, ICC – International Corporate Creations

Great, so you’ve decided that you can both save money and improve business efficiency by setting up a Shared Services Centre or “Insourcing” (wholly-owned Outsourcing) operation abroad.  Excellent.  Now where?   There are hundreds of possible destinations.  You’ll naturally be putting cost evaluation at the top of your checklist, but there are lots of other considerations.  Leaving aside the financial, legal and technical matters that everyone thinks about, there are some others that frequently get neglected or overlooked:

  1. Does the time zone work?

How much real-time communication is needed with your other offices?  Whilst it’s usually possible to hire staff who work nights or non-standard shifts, it’s much more difficult to retain them, and it’s especially difficult to get good management.  If it’s data processing work, then work on the other side of the planet where the time difference will help (they work while you sleep), if it’s high-contact, think North-South.

  1. Will the team have the right language skills?

While you may assume the staff you’ll hire will speak and write English, it’ll be their second language in almost all countries, and there are many kinds of English, not just British and American!  Think carefully about what communications you will need, written and spoken.

  1. How easy will it be to hire and retain staff in the future?

Even if it looks easy to hire the staff you need now, think ahead.  If you’ve picked a location which other multinationals are planning to set up in, it’s likely that the competition for skilled staff will drive wage inflation and increase employee turnover.

  1. Will applicants be right for the job?

There’s probably nothing that gets lost in translation more than a job description!  Straight translations hardly ever work, even for defined qualifications – advertising needs to be drafted in consultation with local HR specialists to ensure the right cultural angles are considered.

  1. What other skill sets are readily available?

You’ll know exactly what operations you want performed now, and the skill sets you need for those, but again, think ahead.  Most businesses setting up abroad only think about moving specific tasks.  However, once it’s successful, you should want your SSC to take on a wider scope and responsibility – and remember that the higher-skilled the job, the bigger the saving by doing it overseas instead of back home.

  1. How fast are wages likely to rise?

Salaries in developing countries almost always rise faster than back home – annual rates of 8-15% are common.  In some countries, wage rises are government mandated.  And, of course, any merit increases go on top!  You need to plan costs for 5 years ahead and plan to stay on top of achieving productivity improvements year after year.

  1. How easy is it to get to?

With good local management, you won’t need to rely on expats located there – but to be fully successful, you will need a lot of regular visits from the mother ship, both by those who can give training and support and by some of the top CXO team.  Enthusiasm for travel quickly wears thin if it’s a horrible journey – you and your colleagues will need to travel there year after year.  Also, when things go wrong, you may need to get people there in a hurry.  So don’t only look for locations with daily direct flights, but consider the door-to-door journey time and the jetlag effect.

  1. Is it a nice place to visit?

OK, you’ll only ever be going on business – but let’s face it, you and your colleagues are much more likely to visit frequently (and thereby help develop the operation) if you enjoy going there – so this really is a critical consideration.  Good weather, tourist attractions, food that you like and a happy culture all help.

  1. How will your staff commute to and from work?

Understanding this can be critical to staff retention and operational management.  If the only way home is by bus, and the last one leaves at 18:30, they won’t ever stay late.  If they have a 2-hour commute each way by train, any new job offer that comes along with a shorter commute could be very tempting!  These aren’t exaggerations, but true examples applying to many staff in two common outsourcing locations.

  1. How useful will it be as a base to develop new regional business?

You might only be interested in setting up a SSC today, but, depending on your Company’s business, it’s well worth thinking about how the operation could serve as a future sales and marketing hub for the country or region where you are setting up.  Setting up the initial operation can be costly, but adding functionality later is usually straightforward and cheap.