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.

8 Do’s and Don’ts for businesspeople facing Brexit

  1. DON’T go to any seminars, conferences or events dedicated to talking about Brexit. You have better things to do with your time. I can paraphrase them all for you in one sentence – “We have no idea what is going to happen, but when we do we will have an opinion”.
  1. DON’T think that because some economic indicators are improving, Brexit has passed, the experts were wrong, we’re all still alive and it’s no big deal. It’s all still to happen…. and it could take a long long time.
  1. DO panic – or at least make plans. Business people are supposed to be permanently optimistic, but this time take a break to be a pessimist. Think what the worst scenario could be for your business, and then plan accordingly. The government won’t tell us what their plans are until it’s too late for you to take effective action.
  1. DON’T lose sleep though. At least, not over Brexit. It won’t turn out as bad as you’ve been imagining it while you made those plans.
  1. DO change any branch offices that you may have in other EU countries to subsidiaries instead. It’ll take a little time to organise and it’s better to do it now in case any new rules come in.
  1. DO discuss contingency plans for any EU staff you have in the UK and UK staff you have in the EU, before they make their own. Most politicians say that nothing will change for employees already in place, but this is a time when it’s wise not to assume anything. Your staff are your most critical asset, and they’ll be worried about this, even if they’re not saying anything to you.
  1. DON’T stop planning your international business expansion. Whatever happens, your business will make more money in the short term and be worth more in the long term if you expand your operations internationally. In the worst case scenario, you’ll have another established business base in a less volatile location. It’s short-sighted to hold back on investment – and in any case, setting up overseas doesn’t have to cost a lot.
  1. DO please ask me and my team for advice on points 4 and 5 (and possibly 2 as well!).

 

by Oliver Dowson, CEO at ICC – International Corporate Creations

Starting up in the UK

The ultimate step by step guide

 

Probably one of the most asked questions during the 65, 619 new company incorporations in the UK (according to the latest statistics for April 2016) was “how much?”. Well not a lot to register it… but quite a bit to set up and  maintain it.

There are definitely some factors to take into account that, if overlooked, can be deadly for your business, even before you start trading.

Yes, the idea motivates you, and your will is stronger than ever, but how solid are your finances and how long can your business survive without profit? It is vital that you think  through all the potential costs properly, and include a contingency plan. There are always unexpected expenses. Those, along with poor budgeting are the most common reasons for start-up failure.

Once the money is sorted and your idea is finally turning into reality, you should be able to answer these basic questions and include them in your business plan along with all projected costs.

  • What is your market?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • How useful is your product and how will you position it?
  • What is your Unique Selling Point?
  • Are you going solo or setting up a limited liability company?

Now, all you’ve got to do  is make sure you include all these costs before you get started:

  • Business premises: after staff salaries, probably the biggest operating cost. Whether you use serviced offices or retail business premises, bear in mind that normally these come with agency fees and service charges. You may also have to pay a big sum upfront on your lease, as some landlords and agencies operate on a quarterly rather than monthly basis.
  • Professional advice: Include these services in your budget. The planning stage is one of the most important. It’s OK if you are not an expert, but find some legal and financial advisors to help you with your plan. Keep these contacts for future occasions – when you employ staff or have questions or on projected costs and profits, taxes… Then you’ll definitely need an accountant, payroll agent, lawyer or solicitor.
  • Business travel: when starting a new business, you’ll probably have to attend meetings outside the office. Have some budget allocated to travel, either by public transport or using your own vehicle.
  • Stock, tools and equipment: if you’re not operating a service this can also mean a significant upfront cost. You need to make sure that you’ve got all the material needed to carry out your work smoothly from the start.
  • Insurance: this should be done straight away. It’s important that you protect yourself and keep your company from any type of liability. Insurance is not that expensive but it is important to get the right type of cover. The most common (and essential) is Employer’s Liability Insurance. The certificate should be displayed in your office along with the Certificate of Incorporation or Business Name Registration. Don’t make your business vulnerable.
  • Marketing: as you’re starting a new business, you need to make people aware of its existence! Include events and networking on your budget as part of your awareness strategy. You can opt by traditional methods such as direct mail or spend a small amount in ensuring your website is well placed in search engine results. Invest some time and money in creating your brand: leaflets, logo, corporate brand sheet, business cards, etc. Create an identity that makes your company unforgettable!
  • Staffing and employment: refer to your professional advisers to have guidance on recruiting new employees, wages, tax, National Insurance or any other payroll or HR matters – again, no need to be an expert, just seek some help to save time and effort and ensure you “do it right”. Companies nowadays tend to outsource these services, and there are various packages sold depending on the size of the company.
  • Other expenses normally overlooked:
    • IT and other equipment- computers, printers, toners
    • Office furniture
    • Business stationery and office supplies
    • Website development
    • Postage
    • Utilities – electricity, water
    • Phone and internet charges

Go ahead!

  • Choose your business structure
  • Find a location
  • Register your company with Companies House
  • Register for tax and national insurance
  • License your business (if applicable)
  • Get a website
  • Good luck!

Any questions? We’d be happy to help – get in touch with me or any of my colleagues at ICC -International Corporate Creations.

 

by Joana Miranda, Admin and Finance 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