Wednesday, 27 June 2012
My children were 10 and 8 years old, and this was to be my longest time away since they were born. So I did two things. I wrote short poems or stories, or notes giving clues on where to find small presents around the house and garden, and put them in envelopes for them to open each day. I traced a map of the USA and made a fridge magnet with a caricature of my head, so they could track my journey. And they did!
I arrived at an awful Holiday Inn near JFK for a stopover before an early morning flight to Vancouver where we had an excellent Canadian distributor. There was a notice on the door warning of the possible dire consequence of opening it to the pizza delivery man! That was based on a couple of recent gangland shootings where the pizza box had been used to conceal a handgun. The pizza was okay and I am still here.
I had been booked into Holiday Inns throughout my journey, and was relieved when Vancouver’s version was cleaner and less intimidating. I was there a few days and made time between meetings to take in the sights and sounds of the city. My abiding memory was seeing white lights in the distance moving up and down a night sky, and it took me ages to work out that they were ski lifts and not aliens landing.
The 7am flight to Seattle was spectacular, flying between mountain ranges on a clear frosty morning. I spent a long, incredibly hectic day there. It was February 14th, and the hippy cab driver who took me from the airport to my first meeting had a box of heart shaped chocolates in a heart shaped box that he was offering to all his passengers that day.
That was the fun bit. I was late for two out of the following four meetings because I hadn’t worked out my logistics properly. I felt constantly on the back foot. Some of the companies I’d identified as being potential distributors were more like local dealers, something that Google Earth might have signalled had it been around then. From Seattle I flew on to Portland Oregon, to arrive in their Holiday Inn just before 10pm when the restaurant was near to closing.
I left my bags at reception and had my evening meal straight away. Something light for my starter- a salmon terrine. When it arrived it wasn’t a terrine at all but a massive piece of salmon caught that day in the Columbia River. I began to dread what size my fillet steak main course might turn out to be. That was enormous too, a real ‘Tom & Jerry’ steak covering the plate. I managed half of it, partly because I was so tired and partly because it was so vast! I had a brandy nightcap, collected my bags, went to my room and fell on the bed.
There I woke up at 3am still fully clothed, got up to use the bathroom, and in my semi-comatose state I walked straight into the wall! The Holiday Inns I had stayed in until that night had been configured with the bathroom on the right as you walked in, a bed on the right, and desk on the left, and then a sitting room area in front of the window. In Portland, they did things differently. My room was the other way round. So ‘SMACK!’ and it really hurt. I woke up later to my 6am alarm to find an impressive bruise developing above my right eye. It looked like I’d been in a bar room brawl, and I was being collected at 6:30am by an important guy I had never met before!
When you travel extensively it’s very easy to slip into automatic. It’s a bit like that feeling you get after driving from London to Manchester, wondering whatever happened to Birmingham? That kind of thing mainly happens when you fail to pace yourself properly, when you put your mind and body under too much stress. And if you are not on top of your game you will reduce your chance of a successful outcome.
So what lessons can be learned?
1. It’s easy to cram too much into a business trip. It isn’t easy to stay fresh and alert if you do.
2. Plan your trips, and appreciate the size of the country, distances and journey times.
3. Research every company you plan to visit. Know their strengths and weaknesses.
4. Google Earth gives a useful impression of the premises you are about to visit.
5. Don’t arrive for a first meeting with a blackening eye. It can only get worse!
6. Children grow quickly in three weeks.
Friday, 22 June 2012
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Just a minute, haven't they read the press? Haven't they seen the news articles on how hard it is to get into export and how companies won't try because they fear failure or at least not getting paid on time? Don't they know how difficult it is with strategic planning, market research, needing skills you can only learn over years? Well, no they don't and to be honest they don't care.
That's not to say they are stupid, far from it - their management team work under AGILITY MANAGEMENT. Agility management? you might ask. Yes, if management plans need to change, change them, don't get stuck in a rut and not knowing about something doesn't mean they can't do it. They know they need help to export, and Strong & Herd LLP was called in to pull the strands together and make sure they don't miss key things as they sell to USA and China. Have they done market research, strategic planning - yes, but they wouldn't call it that. They know their products, know the markets, know their competition and have spoken to their prospective customers - they know their market edge.
What sparked this blog was reading something posted on LinkedIn a couple of months ago (I catch up eventually!), a link to a USA blogger and these words jumped out at me:
Strategic planning is inappropriate for small companies because:
• No time: They don’t have the management time or resources to invest in days of planning.
• Big cost: Because their top teams usually lead their sales efforts, taking them off the road has an immediate negative impact on revenues.
• Small payoff: The payoff of strategic planning is often measured in millions of dollars rather than hundreds of millions, so it makes no financial sense to overinvest in the effort.
• Short-lived: Smaller businesses must continually adjust their strategy so the strategies they develop during a strategic planning session are usually short-lived. They win because they are more nimble, quicker to seize unexpected opportunities, than their larger competitors. Long-term planning can slow them down and kill this advantage.
This doesn’t mean small-growth companies should fly blind. It means they should adopt an adaptive opportunistic approach to strategy. They should plan in the hallway, not the boardroom.
It goes on to say that what the smaller companies need is strategic thinking, not strategic planning - two key words "Why Not?" to out think the Competition, sometimes this happens just because you are new in the industry and don't know how it should work so do it your own way. Use IDEAS: Imagine, Dissect, Expand, Analyse, Sell. According to Kaihan Krippendorff who wrote the US blog the main reasons companies don't do something is because they think it costs too much, customers won’t like it or it’s not technically feasible without testing if it is true. He was talking about all business, but this sure seems appropriate to exporting.
Well, I met a company like this yesterday and believe me it works! Can't wait to see them win the Queen's Award for International Trade in 2013 - they will, you know, because no-one's told them they can't!
Thursday, 14 June 2012
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
It was stated that the accepted forms of proof include:
- The “origin” of goods stated in box 34a on a Customs entry will have probably been completed by a freight forwarder who has no idea of the true origin of the goods and is more likely to relate to the origin of the shipment, not the goods. Not what I’d call definitive proof.
- Personally I do not understand what kind of photographic evidence could definitively prove the origin of any products.
- Furthermore I know for a fact that using a website as proof of origin is inherently flawed as there is nothing to regulate whatever is stated on websites.
Monday, 4 June 2012
But Katya’s star turn was at the British Embassy in Moscow where my colleague and I were presenting to an audience of about 120 Russian architects. I made the mistake of trying to kick off with a bit of humour, which was to tell the gathered professionals where in the UK our company was based, ‘Near Manchester’ I said “Where the football comes from”. And Katya went off on a meandering solo journey through the interpretation of my very brief (and not terribly funny) sporting gag. The hall fell silent when she finally shut up, and assuming not unreasonably that my football gag had bombed spectacularly, I carried on, unruffled of course. And as I continued with the presentation, a group at the front started to laugh and talk loudly about Manchester United and Spartak Moscow and “Very funny about the football. We like the football here in Moscow!” A bit slow on the uptake there chaps!