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One of the key elements of the Government’s long term economic plan is a drive towards increasing international trade; both by encouraging Britain’s firms to trade overseas and by encouraging international businesses to establish bases within the UK. In pursuit of this drive, the Government has published a report which summarises progress to date and looks forward to the next phase of the plan.
Within the plan the Government has identified four pathways to growth, namely:
With these aims in view UKTI has changed its business model, seeking to become more entrepreneurial, more collaborative and more open and accountable. The report makes interesting reading, not least for the range of measures which the UKTI is employing to boost the ability of UK businesses to trade internationally. For example, the Global Entrepreneur Programme has already attracted more than 250 technology entrepreneurs to the UK in the last four years and UKTI will continue this programme, highlighting “the UK’s advantages as an entrepreneur and business friendly location, as well as strengths in innovation.”
One section of the report highlights the steps to be taken to raise awareness within the UK of the assistance which is available for those looking to expand internationally. These include providing access to market and industry information, business risk management and an export communications review. This assesses the way in which companies communicate with overseas customers and makes recommendations for improvement.
Although communications may not be the top priority for many businesses which are looking to trade overseas, it can be the factor which makes or breaks a deal. Taking time to understand the business culture of potential overseas suppliers or customers can make the difference between a strong and lasting relationship and a costly mistake. For example it can be hard to reach a mutually acceptable contract unless you are aware that that ‘yes’ in different cultures can mean anything from ‘definitely yes’ to ‘yes we’ll think about it’, or even ‘we are saying yes because we don’t like saying no but haven’t got a clue how to deliver or even what you require.’
Similarly, if an organisation intends to take on a supplier or outsource partner from another country, it is vital that the relative company cultures are explored to ensure that a synergy exists. For example, when looking to source widgets it is all too easy to concentrate on price point and delivery times but unless a business makes the effort to engage the supplier in the aims and values of the organisation, those widgets may not be delivered in a manner and time which meets business imperatives. The same is true of customers. Something as simple as a colour change can mean the difference between success and failure whilst a business model which is based on fast broadband might not succeed if the infrastructure is lacking.
Partner, supplier, customer or subsidiary; whatever the relationship, it will ultimately stand or fall on a mutual understanding of values and ethos. Cultural due diligence is so often neglected when contracts are on the horizon but it is cultural fit which will help to make the relationship successful. It doesn’t matter whether a business is a one-man band or a multi-national conglomerate; all have a part to play in global trade and all can be successful provided time is taken to truly understand and share company cultures.