Wednesday, 30 December 2015
Monday, 3 August 2015
Tuesday, 7 July 2015
About eight years ago, I googled ‘Best town in Britain’ in preparation for my move back to Blighty. Being a web worker, I was at liberty to move to wherever I wanted to. I had left the UK some 14 years earlier a happy single Londoner, and was to return an even happier family man.
Whilst the world’s greatest City has its undoubted attractions, I was looking forward to and ready for an altogether more peaceful existence. Hamburg and the Canary Islands had been good practice.
My search led me to a listing which ranked Winchester in Hampshire as the most desirable town in Britain. Since my best mate hails from there, I had the pleasure of visiting it on many occasions in the past. But that was the problem: I wanted to live somewhere with which I was not familiar. Somewhere quiet – but given the London-centric nature of the thankfully still United Kingdom, easy access to it was also an important factor in our decision.
After consulting the boss and having both checked it out both on and offline, we elected to relocate to number two on said list – the market town of Horsham, in West Sussex. It ticked all the right boxes: Good schools, low crime, and the relative tranquility it offered when compared with the big smoke with all that unwanted noise.
And so began the next chapter of our life. After having settled in, it was soon time to set up meetings in and travel to, you’ve guessed it, London.
I decided to break myself in gently, and elected to take the 10:20 train to London, the cost of which to me at the time seemed like a staggering amount of money for what was at best a mediocre service. With the passage of time, the shock receded and was replaced by latent anger which has since morphed into a state of resigned acceptance.
Whilst I was delighted that the journey on a good day takes just under an hour, my heart went out to those souls who had to do it every day. It still does.
At first, it seemed strange visiting the City which was my home for most of my adult life. I felt a tourist in which was once ‘my’ City. It was noisy when I lived there. Now it seemed like noisy squared, especially when compared to Tenerife which had been our home for the previous six years.
I would arrive home in one of two states: elated – for despite its din, I still get a buzz from the fact that the world’s greatest City is right at our doorstep. But sometimes I would arrive back in an emotional state more consistent with Samuel Johnson’s musing that 'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.'
Whilst I did not have the Samaritans on Speed dial, I sometimes got back home utterly exhausted. What is more, something bugged me - but I was not sure what it was.
Some dozen trips to town later, the proverbial penny dropped: it was those darn pre-recorded announcements on the trains! First, there was the welcome message. Then there was the list of all the stations. Then there was the ‘Please note that this train divides at Horsham’ one. Any modicum of pride felt living in somewhat of a railway hub was soon replaced with a simmering latent resentment that this was the case.
Then there’s ‘Please ensure that you are travelling in the correct part of the train.
To make matters worse, train guards randomly inject with their version of predictable events, or worse still simply repeat what has already been said by their invariably more eloquent automated colleague.
So I started doing what our North American friends refer to as the math: there are six main stops between Horsham and London, and on a good day each announcement is only repeated once. So that’s 12 announcements for a one way trip, so 24 for a return journey. This equates to some 7896 announcements a year. When you factor in the usually unwelcome and unnecessary ‘human’ ones, the real number is probably nearer ten thousand.
Being told so many times to mind the gap between the train and the platform has had me considering making a beeline straight for it.
As a young man, I found the tranquility of my Father’s home town in East Anglia a bit unsettling. I wanted action. Now that the tables are turned, I enjoy the relatively peaceful existence afforded by an English Market town.
In keeping with my new found love of relative tranquility, earlier this year I started helping an American company who provide sound blankets, sound booths and acoustic treatment products for the voiceover, acting, audio recording, music & broadcasting industries.
They have been getting orders for the mobile soundproofing solutions from all over the world – but the cost of shipping the goods from USA would sometimes cost more that the item itself. As of next month, all items will be stored at a fulfillment center on the outskirts of Glasgow. So, soon UK customers can receive their orders the very next day, and avoid that horrible import duty!
There have been some interesting applications for their products: over and above the obvious ones, people have been using them in a variety of ways, ranging from the wedding photographer who wanted a 6x6 foot booth so that he can shoot his customers in relative peace, to someone who recently purchased our bestselling Producer’s Choice sound blankets to help reduce the constant, persistence and after a while irritating hum that computers invariably generate.
Not surprisingly, demand from all kinds of musicians has been strong, allowing them to do what they love and remain on good terms with their neighbours.
It gets better: whilst making less noise, customers get to hear less of it! No more unwanted siren, car, plane, trains or bird sounds for that matter. Customer wins twice.
I look forward to serving customers to help them cut down all that unwanted noise. I just wish we had something that could dampen or better still eliminate all those unwanted train announcements.
I’m sure it would be a bestseller if we did.
For more information about the company, visit www.vocalboothtogo.co.uk
Sunday, 26 April 2015
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
So, you have taken the monumental decision to expand internationally. Over time, this may very well prove to be one of the best business decisions you have ever made. And with almost 200 countries to choose from, there’s no shortage of new markets in which to expand.
But given this abundance of choice, where to start?
Well, to begin with, perhaps it might be easiest to start by reaching out to the 34 million Hispanophones living within the United States itself. Doing so will make the job of expanding into South American countries that much easier – plus of course Spain and its numerous territories itself.
Given that neighbouring Canada shares the same language and continent as the United States, it is perhaps unsurprising that it is usually the first choice for US companies with international aspirations.
For those looking further afield, Great Britain is a logical choice for US companies looking for a European home. Over and above sharing the same language, the United Kingdom is conveniently located between North America and Asia, making communication with both possible during a normal working day. Its capital London is arguably the world’s only truly global City. The most common form of legal entity is a limited company, in which the liability of members or subscribers of the company is limited to what they have invested or guaranteed to the company. Establishing such a company usually takes less than a day.
Another attractive market to consider is Europe’s largest and richest one, Germany. However, as Walmart’s failure to break into this lucrative but demanding market demonstrates, size and money are not prerequisites for success. One elementary error they made was to hire a CEO that could not speak German. To avoid making the same mistake, make sure you hire someone that does. An additional beneficial side-effect of expanding into Germany is that is makes the job of developing your business in neighbouring Austria and Switzerland easier. This is commonly referred to as the ‘DACH’ market, which comprises of some 100 million inhabitants.
However, this market is quite small when compared to the country which according to the IMF has overtaken the USA to become the World’s largest economy – China. Home to some 1.35 Billion people and more than a million millionaires, clearly this colossal country is too big to ignore. But given the enormous cultural and linguistical differences that exist between China and the rest of the World, establishing operations there can be fraught with difficulties.
One relatively quick, cheap and easy way to gain a foothold in China is by establishing a virtual office there first. An assistant will be assigned to you, will act as your point of contact in both an inbound and outbound capacity. When not taking inbound calls via the Chinese telephone number allocated to you, they can be tasked with making outbound ones or with spreading the word about your particular product or service on the Chinese Social Media networks Sina Weibu, Renren, Tencent & WeChat. Moreover, having a presence in China will smooth the way for expansion into other countries located in the Asia Pacific region.
No one said that going global will be easy. International expansion seldom is. But the potential rewards for enterprising enterprises that seize on the opportunities afforded by so doing will have a distinct competitive advantage over those that do not. The world is indeed their oyster, and assuming that you follow through on your decision to do the same, it can be yours too.
Saturday, 18 April 2015
Given the fact that Europe’s largest and richest country lies right at our doorstep, clearly it makes for perhaps the first country to consider after having taken the decision to expand internationally.
Business-to-Business enterprises will normally find communicating with their continental clients relatively easy, not least since most German business people at C-Level can usually speak English, sometimes arguably better than their UK counterparts. As for German consumers, they are Europe’s wealthiest and citizens of Europe’s most populous country, and tend to be loyal.
However, as Walmart’s attempt to crack the German market demonstrates, size and money are not necessarily prerequisites for success in this attractive but demanding market. But the rewards for those that do manage to crack it are invariably considerable.
There are several types of business that can benefit by reaching out to the German market. UK media and creative agencies, for example, are generally perceived to be at the top of their game. The words ‘Made in Britain’ can be synonymous with quality and style. As for destinations, the wanderlust of the Germans is well known - those businesses that take the time and trouble to translate their website and other marketing collateral into German are much more likely to win more business from these experienced and seasoned travellers.
Online stores eager to capitalize on Germany’s e-commerce boom should bear in mind that German consumers are not so keen on credit cards – so it is important to be able to be paid using ‘Bankeinzug’ from their bank current accounts.
Websites that rely on translation automation tools such as Google translate are doing themselves and visitors to their site an enormous disservice – it is far better to engage in the services of a native human to communicate your message effectively.
One way SME’s can dip their toe into the German market quickly and cheaply is by creating the impression that they are already operational there. This is done by establishing a virtual office, which is much cheaper and easier to set-up than a real one. Image is important to Germans, and the address associated with such an ‘office’ can and should be prestigious one for companies where this is important. Mail-forwarding and having inbound telephone calls to a German number answered by a native speaker come as standard for such a service.
Communications and infrastructure in Germany are excellent. The German high-speed InterCity Express (ICE) trains offer fast, frequent and reliable services between all German cities. It gets better: soon it will be possible to board one at London’s St.Pancras and arrive in central Cologne just four hours later. Flying there lasts just over an hour, and regular flights are operated by most airline carriers. As one might expect, more often than not, taxis are usually Mercedes or Audi!
Consequently, business meetings can normally conducted within a working day and it’s normally therefore possible to get back home before Newsnight.
As within the United Kingdom, regional differences exist: getting a handshake in Düsseldorf, for example, is usually easier than in Hamburg. This having been said, there are many Anglophiles in North Germany who would welcome the opportunity to work with UK companies.
Working with a facilitator on the ground in Germany who understands the cultural nuances that exist within Germany itself will further improve the chances cracking that German nut.
Expanding into new markets is seldom easy, but the rewards for those that do can be significant – particularly with this one. And by reaching out Germany, it is usually easier to win business in neighbouring Austria and Switzerland – that’s a combined market of some 100m consumers, commonly referred to as the DACH market, who share the same language.
Succeeding in Germany will not be easy. But once customers or partners are won, they usually stay. This is what makes Germany a particular attractive market to conquer - so doing allows UK companies to start making Euros ‘made in Germany’ for many years to come.
Cicero once mused that the greater the difficulty, the greater the glory. Success in Germany would be glorious indeed.
High Speed ICE trains will soon be operating between UK & Germany
Tuesday, 24 March 2015
In his bestselling book ‘The World is flat’, Thomas Friedman describes the interconnected world in which we now live as a level playing field in terms of commerce, where all competitors have an equal opportunity. His book refers to the perceptual shift required for countries, companies, and individuals to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical divisions are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
This metaphor is particularly apt in the world of E-Retailing which globally has already become a trillion dollar industry in its own right, with double digit growth expected year on year in the foreseeable future. Whether they like it or not, online retailers throughout the world all have access to a vast and growing global audience. And like it they should, not least since this universal reach represents a fantastic opportunity to make money on a global scale.
But online retailers with worldwide aspirations must first overcome a series of challenges before they can start to do so. For starters, there’s the issue of language. If they are to start winning business from overseas customers, online merchants must communicate with prospective customers in a language they understand – theirs. And whilst automation tools like Google translate are useful for ‘getting the gist’, for longer descriptive sentences they more often than not do more harm than good, which is why it is best to engage in the services of a native human translator for such work.
Mindful of the many languages spoken throughout the world, such an undertaking would be a herculean task, so it would be probably best to begin with the obvious ones. For example, US e-retailers who take the time and trouble to translate their website into Spanish will then be able to reach out to not only the South American market, but also the 45 million Hispanophones living within the United States itself.
Then there’s the issue of arguably the most crucial stage of the sales process – the check out. Each market has its own unique payment mechanisms, so it is important that these be offered to customers ready to click the all-important ‘Buy Now’ button. For example, IDEAL has become the standard method of payment within the Netherlands, so e-retailers must offer it if they want to win more Dutch customers. As for Europe’s largest market next door, German consumers are not so keen on credit cards – so merchants must make it possible for them to be paid via regular checking accounts instead. Thankfully, a wide range of processing aggregators can help offer these and all other available payment options.
Finally, once an order has been placed, the sales cycle must depart from the hyper fast online world and engage with the more sedate offline one – the goods need to be shipped to the customer. This is where the whole process can become costly and excruciatingly slow. Customers increasingly expect that they receive their chosen goods the next day. If the merchant and customer are on different continents, the time taken to deliver the product can take weeks, not days, and international shipping fees and associated taxes can sometimes equate to more that the original purchase price.
However, by working with fulfillment partners in key strategic locations throughout the world, online retailers can outsource shipping and delivery to such companies, who can integrate with the merchant’s website, and dispatch orders on their behalf.
Going global is seldom easy, but can pay enormous dividends for online retailers that do. The world is indeed their oyster.
Sunday, 22 February 2015
A couple of years ago, the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron went to lengths to impress upon a Russian press attaché why he thought his country was Great. He went on to point out that Britain helped rid Europe of fascism, was instrumental in helping abolish slavery, has invented most of the things worth inventing -including Sport that is currently played around the World - as well as art, literature and music that 'delights the World'. But what about Business?
In many ways, the UK is the obvious choice for companies throughout the world expanding internationally.
For starters, there's the language - Much to the annoyance of the French Establishment, English has become De facto the standard language in which businessmen and women throughout the world communicate.
Secondly, there's the time zone: Located in the same central region in which time itself is measured, the UK is open for business with Asia in the morning and North America in the afternoon, which is why so many iconic global brands choose to make the UK their European headquarters.
Then there's the economy itself:
Already the sixth largest in the world, the UK will be in a position to overtake arch-rivals Germany as Europe's largest economy by 2030, thanks in part to a growing population and not being burdened with the problems associated with the Euro - it would appear that Britain's decision to retain its Pound Sterling was a wise one. The fact that the UK is part of the EU but operates at arm's length from it means that Britain has been largely shielded from the recent turbulence associated with mainland Europe next door.
With its Anglo-Saxon work ethic that makes the Southern European one seem positively docile by comparison, the United Kingdom has an energy and hunger which makes it a great place to do business, with relatively low corporate tax rates which are set to fall further in 2014.
Setting up a Private Limited Company in the UK is both quick and easy. If image is important to your company, then register your UK with a prestigious London address. Given that the UK's Capital City is dis-proportionally larger than all other UK cities and home to most global brands, companies from outside the UK usually decide to make it their British home.
However, if you plan to have a physical presence in the UK and need large premises, it is sometimes better to look outside the M25, the world's largest ring-road which surrounds Britain's premiere City: not only are rents much cheaper, but regional grants are sometimes available from local authorities looking to boost inward investment in their particular area. In some ways, London operates as an autonomous economy detached from the rest of Britain - a country within a country.
One quick, cheap and easy way for you to start reaching out to prospective British customers is by making it easier for them to reach out to you. The simple act of adding a national local contact number which then routes to English speaking staff at your global HQ is a good start. Alternatively, you should consider engaging in the services of an inbound call center who can answer inbound calls in your name. The act of simply having a local access number which customers or prospects can call will instantly give the impression that you have a presence in the UK - even if you do not necessarily have premises and staff. This is more commonly referred to as a 'virtual office'.
Companies in North America who already have an English website are doing themselves a huge disservice by not adding a UK office to the 'contact us' section of their website - calling an overseas number remains a psychological barrier for prospective customers all over the World.
Given that the inventor of the World Wide Web is himself a Brit, it comes perhaps as no surprise that 83% of the UK's population are online and are Europe's most prolific internet spenders. Given that more than half of them will be accessing the web from their mobile devices this year that from the 'fixed line' web, it is important that your online presence renders correctly across all platforms such as iPhone and android, especially if your offering is a consumer facing one.
To this end, if your companies name is still available on Britain's.co.uk top level domain, buy it - and make this the destination for prospective customers from the United Kingdom.
If you are a tech company, there are many companies that you can team up with for strategic collaborations. Many of these are located near 'Silicon Roundabout' in London.
If you plan on employing staff, there are many head-hunters only too eager to help you. Unlike in other EU countries, firing staff is relatively straightforward - making your decision to hire them that bit easier. Finding people to work for you on a 'commission-only' sales basis is also possible, if you know where to look!
If you are in the creative field, you are in good company: The UK has the largest creative sector per head anywhere in the world. And if you aren't, said creativity can help you in your globalization efforts.
If your business is in retail, then you might even pick up some ideas that you can then export to other markets throughout the word. As Napoleon pointed out, the United Kingdom is a nation of shopkeepers, and have become World leaders in the new omni-channel world in which we all now live.
There are a wide range of highly competent professionals at your disposal happy to offer you their services. Some such as Accountancy practices and PR firms will try and secure their services on a monthly retainer basis. Whilst this might be appropriate in some cases, in others it won't be - so engage in the services of a company that charges you on a 'pay-as-you-go' basis instead.
Finally, if you are serious about expanding into Britain, it is important that you have at least one trusted partner on the ground there who can act on your behalf, preferably one with an established network of trusted contacts in place who can help your grow your business in this vibrant and Business friendly country.