The need for the right skills dominated a roundtable discussion which I attended at the Yorkshire Post headquarters in Leeds.
A group of Yorkshire businessmen from a diverse range of industries met with Greg Wright, Deputy Business Editor of the Yorkshire Post, for a discussion on International Business, sponsored by UK Trade and Investment.
Alongside the Post’s delegation other people attending the roundtable included Stephen Crow (Business Development Partner at Clarion solicitors), David Wragg (Operations Director of Hargreaves Industrial Services), Mark Parks (Managing Director of Boston Air Group), Colin Russell (UKTI), Jim Hart) CEO at OneGlobal) and Daniel Hughes (Director at Turner & Townsend).
Starting off proceedings, Greg asked questions regarding selling the Yorkshire brand overseas. Do foreign firms buy from you because you are a Yorkshire business? Daniel Hughes, of Turner & Townsend, responded that it wasn’t the fact that the business was Yorkshire-based which decided why customers should buy. However, Daniel went on to state that the region did have positive connotations around the character of the people of the County and their trustworthiness. OneGlobal’s Jim Hart added that being a UK business in terms of USA trade was deemed as a negative, because Americans preferred to buy local.
UKTI advisor Colin Russell added that Indians might know of the “brand” Yorkshire due to the deep roots of cricket. Nonetheless, Colin went on to state that, fundamentally, customers want to know you have the knowledge and skills to deliver a quality service. The Yorkshire brand adds colour to the UK story but it’s ultimately about what you deliver. Mark Parks, founder of Boston Air (a recruitment business focused on the aeronautic industry), went on to say it’s easiest to start exporting British into North West Europe. David Wragg of Hargreaves Industrials went on to state that the Yorkshire accent is notable, and people do ask where the accent is from when you’re abroad.
Greg then challenged the group on the importance of getting the right skills. Daniel responded that the key barriers to doing international business were mobilisation issues. Jim Hart stated the importance of selling in the local language and having a local website presence. When you are trading with a foreign country, you’ve got to be committed to it and localise your products and services.
Some of the bigger challenges around international business, highlighted by Mark Parks, were deemed to be around the issues of regulation. Another businessman added the importance of understanding the culture of the country and how to deal with people.
Everyone attending the roundtable agreed that service exports, which were once traditionally done by the largest plc companies in the UK, are now being seen by mid-market firms. Quite often, what happens is suppliers follow their clients from one country to another and this is how internationalisation occurs. UKTI suggested the importance of Yorkshire businesses collaborating and learning from each other.
Daniel Hughes went on to reflect on the importance of having the right partners and being very selective when it comes to finding business partners overseas. Once you find the right partners you can then scale up your business.
Greg’s final question was to ask us what tips we would give to other businesses looking to export around the world.
Here’s a few snippets of the best pieces of advice for going International:
- UKTI advised to go for easiest markets first e.g. North West Europe.
- Jim Hart – Commit to one market at a time.
- David Wragg – Go to the top of an organisation when selling abroad and find the right decision makers.
- Stephen Crow – Make sure you talk to UKTI.
Personally, I think businesses should start small and scale fast. The difference between a good business and a great business is whether it is international. We now live in a global village and, with cheap air travel and the Internet, it has never been a better time to get started.