To understand the United Kingdom, it is first important to know that it is not a single country but is actually made up of the four separate countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. While England has the lion’s share of the power in the union, there are devolved parliaments in each of the other three countries but they are not entirely autonomous and can still be affected by decisions made in Westminster.
Unlike the European Union, these four countries share a common language, currency and to a large extent, common laws. The small differences in law though are unlikely to impact upon doing business there. In fact, as far as business goes, the UK’s has a transparent legal system and competition laws that stop you from being at a disadvantage.
Despite Brexit, the UK still remains an extremely viable market for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you are a non-European company, especially from North America or Asia, the UK is an ideal base as it gives you easy geographical access to the European Union and has the added convenience of being an English speaking country. Also, don’t forget that Europe is not the only destination the UK is well positioned for as its port infrastructure and airports are connected to the world on a daily basis. In fact, the U.K. has the largest air transport network in all of Europe.
For companies the world over though, including those from the European Union, the UK gives you access to 65 million consumers and if you’re in the import or export business, Northern Ireland is the perfect location for you as it has retained full access to the Single Market while still being part of the UK.
To navigate the new realities of the UK market though, it may be worth having somebody to guide you as falling foul o new rules may hamper your expansion or it could take you longer to make an impression on the market.
It is a little unfair and also untrue to take the UK’s current economic performance as an indicator of normality. Like the rest of Europe, the effects of the pandemic are still being seen, rising inflation is squeezing take home income and the war in Ukraine is causing further concern and uncertainty. While the economy is expected to grow slowly over the next five years, it is at least still growing. Also, if past performance is anything to go by it will be strong again. The pound has retained its value better than expected, the FTSE is down but performing better than its US counterpart and London is still a global financial centre. While the outlook may not be as rosy as it could be, the UK is still the world’s fifth largest economy and if it were still a European Union member, the United Kingdom would be in second place financially.
Business Etiquette in the United Kingdom
The British value punctuality but are not as fanatical about this as the Germans. However, it is rude to be late and if you’re going to be fifteen or more minutes late, it would be polite give a call to let them know. Depending on how formal the meeting is, you may receive an agenda in advance. You can take your business dress cues from this. The more formal the meeting, the more formal attire. As you probably already know though, certain domains may take a more casual approach to how you are dressed. There will normally be some informal chat before the meetings but keep the topics light, sticking to sport and the weather. Remember that the British often like to use humour when chatting. Quite often, business cards are exchanged but not everyone has then so don’t be offended if someone doesn’t offer you theirs. A good point to note is that the British tend to avoid direct speech and prefer to use more polite suggestions and indirect speech. Be sure to remember this in meetings.
Research into the market in your domain is vital. And, be aware that if you can’t find a market in one country of the United Kingdom, it doesn’t mean that the market doesn’t exist in another territory. So, for example, if you have an agri-tech product, you may find more interest for it in Wales than you would in Northern Ireland.
With a relatively small land area, it’s inevitable that you will find competition regardless of where you settle but don’t let that put you off. Competition is the surest way of proving there is a market for your product or service and the competition laws should guarantee that you’re on a level playing field.
As you already know, the UK has changed and is no longer the way it used to be. That’s why it would be prudent to have a team on the ground before you set up in entirety. The team in each county are local, know the territory and have experience in the domain you work in.
To see how we could help you to enter the UK market, get in touch. We’re always happy to jump on a call.