British Chambers of Commerce
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is the national body of 52 accredited chambers of commerce across the UK, representing 92,000 businesses.
Could you please briefly introduce yourself?
I am responsible for developing strong links between the Global Chamber Network and the UK Chambers of Commerce. I am also involved in promoting international trade. My work includes lobbying and marketing aspects. I have sound experience in Public Relations, having worked in various communication and consulting companies.
Tell me more about your experience as an expatriate:
I originally come from Russia. I moved to Quebec, Canada at the age of 6. I also lived in France and Spain before moving to the UK. I definitely consider myself as an expatriate. I know how difficult it is to leave your home country and start everything over. Several daily basic things, like cooking or interacting with people change drastically. Every country has its own customs and rhythm of life. People and companies wishing to live or develop business abroad must be aware of this before taking a decision that will considerably influence their life or their activity. At the same time, from a personal standpoint, it provides a positive energy, broadens your outlook and helps you learn a lot about yourself. From a business perspective, I would definitively encourage entrepreneurs and SMEs to develop their business abroad, in a timely and thoughtful manner.
Please introduce the British Chamber of Commerce and its network:
The British Chamber of Commerce is the representative body for almost 100 Chambers of commerce, 52 being based in the UK and over 40 offering services overseas. We act as a hub between the two networks, with the main focus on helping local businesses both grow domestically and expand overseas. Basically, companies based in the UK can become members of their nearest Chamber of commerce, which will help them achieve their business development goals. Though our primary audience are British companies, we are of course open to everyone in need of such services.
How can the Chambers of Commerce help expatriates and small companies set up / develop their business?
We provide a range of services to help small and medium-sized companies develop their business, from cultural training to market research to translation services. Chambers help members prepare specific documentation and letters of credit, taking into account the local tax regulations and customs procedures. Thanks to the link with overseas Chambers through the BCC Global Business Network, we can significantly reduce risks as well as the time required to start operations by recommending reliable partners, as well as tips on how to deal with the local business climate. Some Chambers also offer meeting rooms and office spaces.
Expatriate entrepreneurs can take advantage of the numerous events organized annually by the Chambers of Commerce. Those events are dedicated to bringing people together, and are a brilliant way to make connections. In any case networking is a mandatory activity when developing a business.
What are the main steps to set up a company or develop a business abroad?
Let's take the example of an exporting company. The first step to expand internationally is to get a concise insight into the targeted country. A Chamber's market research team can provide this company with adequate support, in association with the relevant Chamber overseas. Frank advice, in addition to field reports, will be a helpful resource to make the right decision. Once the decision to invest overseas has been taken, Chambers can help this company prepare and translate documentation, train its staff and meet local partners.
What advice would you give to professionals wishing to do business with expatriates or set up a company abroad?
I would advise them to never make assumptions. There are so many differences between countries, in terms of taxation, regulation or conditions for residency...It is important to be prepared for cultural challenges. For instance, building a proper client relationship strategy requires the observance of local rules: while a simple cold call might be enough to start a relationship in Great Britain, you will need to be introduced by a trusted third party in Italy and schedule several face to face meeting in the Middle East to reach the same result. One could consider this last example as a slow connection process, but it paves the way for a fruitful and longstanding relationship.
In a period marked by the global economic downturn, which countries play their cards right?
Not all markets are suited for every business. It always depends on the product or service you sell. Every business has to find its niche. However, macroeconomic figures can tell us how well several countries are doing. Germany posted a 13.60 EUR billion trade surplus in January of 2016. Although declining, it remains a great result, with regards to its European peers. Along with Germany, China and the United States are among the main exporting countries. It is worth noting they have extremely strong business networks. Germany has a network of over 120 chambers of commerce overseas, in 80 countries. A German company can rely on local support almost anywhere it wants to go. This is a pretty significant competitive advantage. There is clearly a link between a country's foreign trade wealth and its business network.