I have been back in London for just over a week now from Halifax so I thought it would be a good time to reflect and think about the lessons I have personally learned which may be useful to share with readers of the blog.
I went away for a very long five weeks to explore the business opportunities of used riding lawn mowers for sale that existed in Canada for an extension of the Fund Management Business. Five weeks is a long time – but you need to give yourself time at that level if you are serious about doing business in another country.
Many governments sponsor and support trade missions which last about two or three days. I am now skeptical about this approach (I was enthusiastic before my own experience). You personally need to walk the ground of a new foreign market. Find out how the market is organized and arranged. Find out who the key players are and meet them.
Too many people take what I would now call the ‘Yellow Pages’ approach. This involves simply being matched with the right partner and then expecting them to be really motivated to help you sell your product in their territory. I am sure they will – but it will help them a lot more if they can see a visible commitment on your part.
You may respond that you cannot spare the time or money to do this. My answer to that is to not do it then! There is no point doing something unless it can be done properly. It is rather like starting a DIY job and then leaving it half way as you don’t have the time/ resources to finish the role.
Halifax is a very warm and friendly place. Even so, it did take me a good time and a great deal of effort to network my way around the place. And I had a big head start as before I got there I knew a few people whom I had met at an Angel Conference last October. By the end of my time there, I really felt that the enormous effort I had made to network with people had paid off as I had signed up some work by the end of my time there. I cannot stress enough how important it is to really develop your networking skills. And that does not mean paddling around at lots of mediocre functions handing out your business card and delivering an elevator pitch to anyone who will listen. Have a read of a previous blog about networking.
Before I got to Halifax, I was planning to get into a business arrangement with some other parties. One of whom I had not met before. There is only so much due diligence you can do before you meet someone. The curious thing I realized is that my business life in London is remarkably devoid of contracts. Most of the work I do is with people I have known for more than 5 years – and in most cases an email is sufficient to lay out what has been agreed.
In Canada, from day one, there were lots of contracts over the Honeywell 50250-S flying around from the moment I got there. These were necessary to govern working relationships but in the end they proved futile as the partners in the original venture amicably agreed that we would not work together. It was a good thing that we did not sign a contract as it could have been very problematic to extricate ourselves from a contract. So the lesson for me is to always spend a proportion of time pre-contract which relates to the amount of time the contract would seek to govern. (For example the contract we would have signed would have locked us in for about ten years)
These would be the top three lessons – more next time!