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Synergy looks at Singapore where employee engagement is a high priority strategy for many companies.
With the UK economy still languishing, businesses are being encouraged to look further afield to achieve growth. Synergy Creative is looking to take advantage of opportunities offered by overseas trade and has started to investigate opportunities in South East Asia.
We already have experience of delivering global employee engagement strategies for UK based businesses and so marketing this service to overseas companies directly is a next logical step.
Increasing the level of export from the UK, particularly by SMEs, is something the Government is keen to support. Last year the DTI launched the National Export Challenge, an initiative aimed at increasing the number of UK businesses exporting from 20 per cent to 25 per cent, a move which is estimated to have the potential to add £36billion to the UK economy.
From a regional perspective it appears the South West is already making positive inroads into the export market. Research carried out by Kingston University in 2010 showed that 55 per cent of businesses in the region export, second only to London at 61 per cent. However the research also shows that the majority of these businesses, 63 per cent, are considered ‘born global’, that is export had always formed part of their business model. What does appear to be lacking is the desire, or the knowhow, to proactively use overseas trade as a way of driving business growth. And it’s a picture that is reflected across the country, with only 2 per cent of businesses anticipating that they would begin to export in 2011.
One South West business that is hoping to take advantage of the opportunities offered by overseas trade is Synergy Creative. Based in Bristol, Synergy is a creative brand engagement and internal communications agency. The business employs 15 people, has a turnover of over £1M and has enjoyed steady growth since its launch in 2006. It’s a growth it’s keen to maintain but faced with the sluggish domestic market they have begun to investigate opportunities in South East Asia.
Nicky Clark, Director, says: “We already have experience of delivering global employee engagement strategies for UK based businesses and so marketing this service to overseas companies direct seemed a logical next step. Our research showed that employee engagement was an issue for businesses in Singapore and is something that the Government is encouraging businesses to address. We were also encouraged by the fact that the country is ranked number one globally by the World Bank in ‘Ease of doing business’.”
Clearly not all SMEs are as willing to take the plunge with concerns about the time and resource required being a major barrier. In fact the Kingston University research stated ‘time and effort’ as one of the three main barriers to export for SMEs with 31 per cent of businesses stating this as an issue. Regulation, language and understanding cultural differences ranked equally as important.
For those willing to consider taking the next step there is help available. The UKTI Passport to Export Service exists to help smaller businesses develop and manage their export strategy. They offer an in depth capability assessment which helps help businesses identify if they are ready and able to begin exporting. They then provide ongoing support, helping to develop action plans, advising on funding and organising trips to potential overseas markets. This was the route taken by Synergy Creative who attended a Passport to Export trip to Singapore earlier this year along with 13 other South West based businesses.
Nicky Clark says: “Spending time in Singapore was extremely useful. It’s vital to make sure that there is a need for your services, and however good your research nothing beats sitting down and talking to the people you are hoping to work with.”
“Having the support of the Passport to Export team meant the trip was hassle free and enjoyable, they helped facilitate meetings and made introductions which would have been difficult to achieve on our own..”
For Synergy the experience was a positive one and they are now in the process of arranging a follow up trip to identify how best to set up a local presence in the country. However, once the decision has been made the route to export is not always straightforward. Differences in business culture, language and working across different time zones are all real issues that need to be addressed. Nicky continues:
“It’s a big commitment but we are confident enough of the potential benefits to be happy to make the investment, both financially and in terms of our time. It’s also been a real learning experience. The Passport to Export team encouraged us to take time to understand the culture, needs and different ways of approaching business in Singapore. For instance we found that you need to proactively ‘sell’ to people and really pitch your work. In the UK we take a softer approach, researching companies and asking lots of questions during initial meetings – I had to adapt a ‘stronger’ sales approach in Singapore.”
“Local representation is also important – companies were definitely open to the idea of buying services from overseas but still wanted a face to face contact and local understanding. So seeking out good networks and local partnerships is now a priority for us.”
The route to export is not necessarily straightforward, it requires commitment and a significant investment of time, energy and resource but with full economic recovery at home still a far off dot on the horizon it could be the answer that businesses are looking for.
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