The Potting Shed
With over 150,000 new private businesses started in 2017 it seems that everywhere we look there’s a start-up. In this new series we asked friends of JM Finn to describe the challenges entrepreneurs face as they look to change the world, make a fortune or simply earn a living.
Young entrepreneurs Tim Connor (30) and Francesca Armstrong (29) have various business interests across the US, Europe & Asia and they advise SMEs & Governments. Here they explain some of the challenges they experienced in taking a company global.
When we expand, why do we think our operational base just has to be in one place? The decision to move and grow our team internationally came as a solution to a problem we were trying to overcome.
Having run businesses since we were 21 years old from our bedrooms in the leafy suburbs of Surrey, we had our sights set on international markets, and as we sat in our hotel room in Tokyo one morning watching the World Business Report, we felt the hunger for new beginnings. Hearing the stories of what so many entrepreneurs had done by being a part of the race to the top, combined with the development and sustainability in many upcoming countries; the pure excitement of growing businesses within new markets was hard to ignore.
We had already begun to expand our businesses from the UK to various countries globally a year prior to this and up to that point all communications and operations were still being run by our UK teams. This was proving an impractical task with time zones and was certainly holding back our agility to grow and provide exceptional client services.
Our initial reaction was to recruit a team that would be willing to work out of hours/on night shifts from one of our UK bases. They would be able to train with the existing teams and cross over mornings and evenings. Unfortunately, this proved near impossible with existing team members unwilling to take on the roles and new recruits needing to be guided and led through the night. In the meantime we spent the best part of nine months taking it in turns between ourselves to do the night shift from wherever we were in the world. It was certainly a challenging time but enabled us to grow our businesses internationally to a point where they could be sustainable to support themselves.
As with anything worth doing, it of course came with challenges of its own. The initial hurdle was the vast cultural differences within a new market. Influences that you would normally not have considered suddenly become greatly important. Religious holidays and prayer breaks are an important part of work life for our teams and vitally important to be built into the working schedule.
The pure excitement of growing businesses within new markets was hard to ignore.
Appropriate attire is another important issue to get right when turning up in a new market. Unlike the UK/US where casual work wear is now widely accepted, in a lot of developing countries where there is still a large wealth divide, dressing smartly still contributes to status and respect.
The gap between men and women is much more prominent than in the Western world and for us as a male-female duo, Francesca certainly felt the challenge of being heard while building and training a predominantly male workforce.
Unsurprisingly the younger generation have a more modern approach to thinking and many of our own teams have been keen to encourage their own wives and sisters into further education and skilled work. Now several years on we have multi-gender teams and have seen other businesses based near us follow accordingly.
As a smaller business, expanding internationally has been fundamental to our growth.
Understanding and embracing the local culture and community is critical to enable your business to succeed within a new market. It’s important to work alongside the region or community you’re based in to build sustainability not just for your business, but the local economy and people too. We have always felt stability and sustainability come from putting in as much as you take out. This in turn helps to ensure a more stable long term future for your team members and their families which many businesses forget are the backbone of your company.
As a smaller business, expanding internationally has been fundamental to our growth and success in other markets and made possible by utilising technology to connect our global teams.
The development of smart millennials via platforms like upwork, fiverr and hellotech now enables SMEs to tap into a breadth of bright individuals based globally no matter how small your business. Using the power of the gig economy to drive your own contractor-based infrastructure, even the smallest of companies can take the next step of growth at a more affordable or convenient level.
For us the drive was the need for out-of-hours solutions to improve both our service and efficiency and enable growth. By basing our back-office teams in other time zones we were able to utilise time to get the most out of a 24-hour day. We were able to take a global perspective to fix our local problems. We continue to look at ways to enhance and embrace a positive change in our work across our ever- changing world.