I've had a connection with Dubai for a very long time. In fact, my family first moved there when I was 10 years old. Since then I've moved back and forth between Dubai and Southeast Wales, and now the time has come to return to Cardiff once again - probably for good this time. I made the decision to set up Brandsworth back in February, but I still had nearly six months of my contract with a Dubai-based agency to complete. At first I thought I'd have a long wait before Brandsworth could really begin to take shape, but I quickly discovered that there was a lot I could do to lay the groundwork, even from so far away. Here are a few things I learned from the experience of starting up my UK business from overseas.
1. You can start a business using a smartphone
With the mobile platform becoming more and more dominant, getting things done online has never been easier. That includes setting up a business. Not only did I incorporate Brandsworth with Companies House via my phone, I also set up a business bank account, researched the market, raised awareness about the business and started building connections - all whilst sat in a coffee shop 3,530 miles away from Cardiff, where Brandsworth will be launching next month.
I'm late to the party, but I've now caught the smartphone bug in a big way. It really is my second office, and I'd have a much harder time developing the business without it. If you're starting a business and are wondering what kind of productivity apps might be helpful, I'd strongly recommend IFTTT, Buffer, Google Docs and Evernote, as well as the ubiquitous social media apps.
2. Not being immersed in your market is challenging
While I was able to successfully conduct a fair amount of research on the Welsh market from Dubai (on my smartphone, obviously!), it's no substitute for being immersed in the local business culture and startup community on a day to day basis. I've found myself frustrated by the string of Cardiff-based networking opportunities that I cannot possibly attend, to the point where I almost wish I hadn't become aware of them at all - every one feels like a missed opportunity. But this is a relatively minor quibble, and will be resolved soon enough when I return to Wales.
The real challenge is that, after being immersed in a completely different business culture for two and a half years, I feel that I may have to relearn the language of doing business in the UK. I don't necessarily mean words and phrases, but more the subtle nuances of the way things are done, and the way people interact with each other in a professional context. Stepping off the plane and into a meeting room, in a country that somehow feels a little bit less familiar than it used to, is slightly daunting.
3. Working abroad gives a unique perspective
On the other hand, returning from overseas to start a business does have some advantages. It gives me a more objective view of the overall market landscape. Having a more global perspective also makes the highly competitive branding sector of Southeast Wales seem smaller and less daunting. Perhaps this will change when I arrive back in the country (in just a few days time!), but from where I'm sitting right now, starting a business in Cardiff feels like a manageable and realistic challenge, rather than a desperate battle against the odds.
Another advantage of having worked abroad, and one that may be specific to Dubai, is that developing brand identity for such a fragmented community can be a very restrictive challenge - I wrote about it in more detail here. By comparison, doing the same kind of work in a place where the target market all have more or less the same cultural touchstones will be a breath of fresh air.
4. Social media is the entrepreneur's friend
I've already talked a little bit about the benefits of technology when starting a business, but it's worth taking a moment to sing the praises of social media. There are a thousand other business blogs that go into far more detail on the subject, so I won't repeat what's already out there, but what I will say is that for any startup on a shoestring budget, social media is a revelation. Doubly so when you're starting your business from overseas.
Brandsworth is largely a B2B endeavour, although since we'll also be working directly with owners, founders and entrepreneurs, you could say we're a little bit B2C. For this reason, Twitter feels like the natural medium through which to start raising awareness and building relationships, since it's popular with both companies and individuals. That's certainly been borne out by my experience. Twitter has allowed us to test the waters and assess how people respond to the Brandsworth message, as well as providing at least some remote access to the Welsh business community. Thanks to social media, I don't feel like we'll be entering the market cold.
5. Don't start trying to build connections too early
This is a mistake we made early on, and quickly corrected. In our enthusiasm to reach out to potential customers and build connections, we started generating interest in Brandsworth far too soon. People wanted to meet with me, and I'd put myself in the awkward position of having to tell them that, actually, I wasn't in the country, but I'd be able to meet them in a few months time! You can imagine how badly that disrupted the momentum that we'd been building through our pre-launch social media presence. No-one wanted to hear about what we'd be doing in six months time, especially via social media, where anything older than an hour is ancient history, and anything further away than tomorrow is the distant and unknowable future.
So, we took a step back, stopped pushing for connections, and focused more on positioning the Brandsworth Twitter account as a useful information resource for entrepreneurs and startups in Wales. This approach perfectly suits our own brand identity and mission, and means that we'll have already established our credibility when the time really is right to start reaching out. This dilemma isn't unique to those trying to set up a business from abroad though - every startup founder should be wary of promising things that their business isn't ready to deliver.
If you're starting a business and appreciate the value of effective brand identity, explore the Brandsworth website and discover the affordable branding agency for startups in Wales.