Foreign businesses have long coveted the UK technology market and people my age (16 (joke)), are used to American, Japanese and European companies being here since the 60s and 70s. However globalisation, the freeing up of Eastern Europe and the arrival of India and China has added to the clamour of companies all wanting to expand UK operations (let’s ignore Brexit for now, for once).
In my capacity running business development campaigns for technology companies, I’ve worked with Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Americans, Indians and the Chinese amongst others. I know of a USA company that wasted $millions trying to build a foothold only to end up buying a UK business instead (to great effect). An Eastern European firm I know wasted £thousands running campaigns and employing the wrong people until they got it right. I’ve had Indians and Chinese ask me to run tele campaigns to find leads which they plan to service from home (I have turned these away as I can’t handle the pain of their disappointment).
With great respect to all these companies there almost always is a pattern which is to under-estimate just how hard it is for a foreign business to establish a foothold here. The UK is a brutally competitive market because it is rich, mature and English (thus a landing point for US businesses expanding into Europe). It's also geographically small and somehow everyone knows everyone, at least in the tech market. Towards the larger end of the deal-size spectrum it also requires hard won relationships to be established which is impossible to do from abroad.
So what should you do? Firstly, establish a good sized war chest. Building new business is expensive anyway as cash usually only flows many months down the road and it is more expensive if you are starting from scratch in a country. Secondly, you’ll need boots on the ground. Unless your proposition can be sold entirely on the phone, somebody will need to go and build those relationships – big UK buyers will need something with a pulse to kick if things start to go wrong. Thirdly, run local marketing efforts and don’t call in from abroad – tele is really hard in the UK (perhaps the world’s hardest) and even calling in from the USA will add an extra barrier to your selling.
To succeed in the UK, assume you are creating a well backed start-up which has a ready-developed product and little else. Do your due diligence as to what makes your offering differentiated enough in the UK and employ and deploy local sales and marketing. Finally, take a long-term view and be prepared to change track.
It’s really possible for foreign companies to succeed in the UK as we have an open approach to investment and business and employment legislation is light. But take care – without a well thought out and properly funded plan you’re almost sure to fail.