Linda Middleton Jones examines the effect of Brexit on business behaviour and identifies some foundations that we might just be able to rely upon amongst the chaos.
Much has been made of the Brexit vote, negotiations and implications. There is a plethora of rhetoric across traditional and social media, often contradictory, swinging opinions from doom and gloom to ‘this is going to bring great opportunities for UK plc’.
Everyone has an opinion, from taxi drivers to managing directors; European suppliers to our global buyers, foreign workers to our public-sector employees. Nothing seems certain which means that planning for growth in overseas markets is put into the ‘too difficult’ box until there is certainty on the legal and political framework.
It is true that our industries and services have been adopting agile, learning about scrum, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, leadership and a host of other disciplines.
We tell ourselves we are agents of change, we can adapt, that is what we are good at yet faced with the scenario of Brexit we find that we crave certainty, profess that our foundations to be strong and lose our entrepreneurial spirit.
It is also true that some companies are seizing the opportunity that Brexit presents, do they have more information than the majority that are waiting for clarity on the situation? I think not, actually they are working on the certainties they recognise and taking the lead – exactly what we have been preparing ourselves for over the past few decades.
So, what are these certainties?
Certainty No 1: Heritage, Experience and Expertise
We in the UK have a great heritage of trade by meeting adversity across the globe, taking the challenge by the horns and creating dynamic and rewarding trading relationships. That heritage still exists.
Where ever you travel across the globe our reputation is strong and goes before us. We are renowned for quality, for creativity, being fair, for doing what we say we will do.
Our successful companies define these attributes, think of Mulberry, Dyson and Fox’s to name a few. Our sectors too are renowned throughout the world, we are leaders in aviation, in music, in financial services, in education etc. etc.
Certainty No 2: Friendships
Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations it is absolutely clear that right now we should be reinforcing existing relationships with our buyers or suppliers across the globe. In our brave new world, we should not underestimate the value of face to face relationships over and above those we make on a digital framework.
We know that a mixture of traditional and digital marketing methods used to underpin a growth strategy are important when based upon a clear understanding of customer values and desires. When we communicate with customers we gain an understanding of their world, vital to sustaining a trading relationship and creating new ones.
Improving and adapting to meet customer needs is fundamental to any product or service and especially important within supply chains.
Certainty No 3: Exporting Skills
Many companies have become adept at selling into, or buying from, Europe. Indeed, it is just the same as selling to Aberdeen, Plymouth or Brighton. Easy and uncomplicated, easing the way to new buyers across the member countries.
At the same time a great many companies also sell across the globe they have, over the years of being in business, gained a great deal of skills in exporting.
It is certain that we will have to convert/revert to exporting to the EU. HMRC have already given us an indication of what that will mean. Current global export/import level is approximately 90 million transactions pa. If current trade with EU remains at the same level, that figure will jump to 300 million transactions pa. That is a significant shift in skills requirement; skills in exporting that will have to be learnt ready for Brexit.
Choosing to train your employees now in the intricacies of Certificates of Origin, Incoterms and Tariffs will mean that your company is prepared. Admittedly we have no visibility of the level of tariffs but that will form part of the negotiations, the important thing is to understand the fundamentals of exporting; that is a skill that can be gained in the interim period.
Given our heritage, experience and expertise; our recognition that relationships are important and that we need to learn how to export, is there anything else that we need to consider?
Certainty No 4: Innovation Sells
Innovation is key to the future – either inside or outside Europe. There is recognition in the value of innovative entrepreneurs who are currently changing the way and the speed of business.
Global big business is a like a big oil tanker, it takes longer to change course, it has little agility and is slow and steady. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have already recognised the breed of disruptor as one of the main USP’s of our country. This ‘breed’ will be the driver for success and in effect is synonymous with innovation.
Innovation within the UK has always been our competitive advantage, our USP in effect. We have great examples of our creativity in manufacturing, across services and through technology. Given that funding streams and that global alliances are likely to change, innovation is more important than ever. We need to remain the benchmark country, building on our reputation for quality and tradition in an ever changing political and economic scenario.
How can YOUR business make sense of the certainties and opportunities in this climate of change?
We at International Trade Matters think that successful companies are agile in their thinking, leading innovation within to meet the challenges that need solving. Brexit is one such case where we need to prepare for what we know will happen and subsequently harness our resources to meet uncertainty. We have the capability and capacity to guide your learning either through accredited courses or by one to one support and guidance.
Linda Middleton-Jones is Managing Director and International Marketing Strategy, Export Coach & Mentor for International Trade Matters Ltd