As one of the world’s leading financial and scientific centres, the UK is always a tempting prospect for a company looking to expand overseas. It’s the gateway to Europe, home to some of the finest business minds on Earth and always a shrewd investment. For all these reasons, it’s also a difficult country to branch into. There are decisions to be made, strict employment laws to rub up against and calculations to be made:
1. Beware of Immigration Law
Unless you or your staff members have a European spouse, getting through the UK’s byzantine immigration system can be tough. Your representatives will have to go through the Points Based System (PBS) – based on experience, age, qualifications, salary and criteria of aptitude. They’ll also have to demonstrate a sound knowledge of English. In many areas, your UK-branch will have to be registered as a sponsor before you can even think of sending out your best employees. This can be a time-consuming process: factor in at least a month.
2. Invest in Local People
They may share many values and ideals, but Britain is neither America nor Europe (nor anywhere else for that matter). Particularly if you’re a sales-based business, the change between the hardball style favoured in the States and the subtler British method can leave even seasoned pros floundering. Simply transporting your vision across the pond isn’t enough; you need to hire local experts who can translate that vision for a whole new audience, one alert to peculiarly British subtleties of message.
3. Invest in a Local Network
Wherever you are, whoever you are, your network is the most-important asset your business has going for it. When you’re expanding overseas, it’s even more-important than that. If you’re looking to expand outside of London, think local. It’s better to build firm ties with people on the ground in Cardiff or Edinburgh than cultivating a handful of contacts here and there. The UK is very much defined by its different regions – better to focus a like a laser beam on the region(s) useful to your vision than spread your contacts too thinly.
4. Get on that Plane
In a world of video-conferencing and Google Hangouts, it can be easy to forget the value of face-to-face communication; especially if you’re trying to juggle a billion different projects at once. But when you’re sounding out a new market, on the ground experience can be essential. It makes you seem proactive, it allows you to be dynamic and – most importantly – it allows you to suss out the differences between the British model and your home one. It’s called learning on your feet; and what you discover about London or Manchester in a day of being there will be worth twenty Skype conference calls.
5. Invest in a Local Call Centre
The days of just throwing a lump of cash at India and having a cheap team there field your calls are over. The old model has become a code word for customer alienation; especially in the UK market. By investing in a local call centre, you ensure your customers are dealing with people with a unique understanding of their position and problems. Studies have shown that South East, Yorkshire and Welsh accents are the most-trusted in the UK: having that local-flavour to your customer representatives will allow some of that trust to rub off on you.
6. Beware Employment Law
If you’re coming from the US, UK employment law may come as something of a shock. Though not as stringent as some areas of the EU, it’s certainly more-protective than in many other countries; sometimes too much so. You may have to be prepared to navigate through areas completely new to you. This is where a local understanding and local contacts help: you want to know who to hire, under what terms and conditions, before you even start.
7. Beware Local Issues
As a nation comprised of 4 distinct countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), as well as many diverse regions, businesses in the UK are more open to sudden changes of sentiment than in most countries. Anyone looking to expand there should keep up with local issues; such as Wales enacting different business legislation to the rest of the union or the whole UK looking to exit the EU. Each of these decisions (and many more) could potentially affect businesses for better or worse. Having shrewd locals in senior positions will ensure your business is alert to such changes and ahead of the curve.