Business — Banking — Management — Marketing & Sales

Building business networks in the UK



Category: Business in Great Britain

An important (yet often overlooked) aspect of any emerging markets company’s approach to the UK and its financial markets is to develop a solid network of contacts within the UK business, financial and government communities.

Whether the company’s goal is to raise finance, find strategic partners or expand its business into the UK — taking the time to build relationships and find allies within business and regulatory circles should be considered one of the first steps of a successful market entry strategy.

“Why is this?”

First, these relationships can provide the company and its management with deeper insight into the UK and its customs and business practices. Always keep in mind that attitudes and practices in one place can sometimes differ greatly from those in the wider world. Learn from the mistakes of so many Western companies, who continue to march into Russia with their resolutely Western approach, and fail to take time to appreciate the zagadochnaya russkaya dusha.

Second, in more practical terms, any company coming in to the UK will inevitably (even if unfortunately) need to call on the services of banks, law firms, insurance companies, consultants and/or other service providers. Given this, it is worth spending time developing relationships throughout the professional services sectors, in order to make an informed decision when assembling an advisory team.

Third, the course of successful entry into the UK markets never did run smooth. Inevitably, companies gearing up for cross-border expansion or public equity offerings can stumble upon unforeseen challenges — legal, regulatory or otherwise.

Challenges which cannot always be overcome by expensive City lawyers. As in any country and any market, having good contacts and allies in various circles (banking, legal, government, etc.) can prove invaluable.

The good news is that in order to initiate this relationship building process, companies do not need to spend a large amount of money. There are a number of organizations and associations that can be a useful and inexpensive source of introductions.

The UK Government, through its agency UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), runs a network of advisers for foreign companies entering the UK market (and vice versa). A good starting point is the Commercial Section in the British Embassies in the various FSU countries (in Russia the Consulates in St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg also have commercial staff). The UK also has specialists on your countries and on the various industry sectors in UKTI’s headquarters in London. Finally, UKTI representatives work in many of the regions of the UK, usually located in the offices of the local “Business Links”, which sometimes share premises with the local Chambers of Commerce.

The local Chambers of Commerce themselves are very helpful, providing direct links into companies in the UK regions, across the whole range of industry sectors. You can contact them direct. Or you could ask one of the commercial officers in the British Embassy in your country to assist you in establishing contact. The London Chamber of Commerce is particularly noteworthy as it by definition represents a significant number of large businesses based in and around London, and thus easily accessible from airports served by flights from the FSU. But there are direct air connections from FSU airports to some of our regional airports as well, so you should certainly also consider forging links in and around the UK’s regional centres, including of course in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Bilateral Chambers of Commerce exist specifically to foster business relations between the UK and your country. The Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, of which I am the Executive Director, was formerly the “British Soviet Chamber of Commerce”, before that the “Chamber of Commerce between the British and Russian Empires” — so as you can tell our Chamber has a long history. It has, notwithstanding political changes, continually and successfully provided a mechanism for businesspeople from each country to meet each other and to establish commercial relationships. We publish a monthly newsletter and a weekly bulletin, and we organise conferences, seminars and trade missions. Clearly I am far from being an objective observer, but if your company is from Russia I would encourage you to consider joining! Similar Chambers exist between the UK and Kazakhstan, the UK and Latvia, and the UK and Ukraine. See the “Contacts” section at the back of this guide.

Finally, a useful way to increase your network of contacts in the UK is to identify the Trade Association which co-ordinates the industry into which, for example, you wish to sell your goods. Or, if you are a company seeking finance, you should consider contacting International Financial Services London, the umbrella organisation for the City of London’s financial services providers. The most substantial “Trade Association” in the UK is of course the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). In nearly all cases, these Trade Associations have an international outlook, particularly now that the UK is very much part of Europe and subject to European legislation.

They arrange seminars, meetings and publicise information to their members. I wish you good luck in building your business networks. We are a small island, but we are not as insular as we might seem! We would like to get to know you!

GODFREY CROMWELL, Russo-British Chamber of Commerce

The Russo-British Chamber of Commerce (RBCC) exists to facilitate trade between Britain and Russia. Member services include the provision of a monthly business digest, in-depth regional and company profiles, exhibitions, conferences and up to the minute Russian business advice. See www.rbcc.com


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