At a time when the doomsayers of global warming have us reaching for the duvet and cancelling our frequent flyer airmiles, we ask – just how far do we need to go, travel-wise – for the sake of business, and does it work anyway?
Actually – we don’t have to go very far at all. But that does not stop the fanciful dreams of hopeless romantics jumping on long distance planes. There has to be a compromise, but so often, the decision makers of such compromises have their own vested interests – or often no actual interest.
My colleague is CEO of an IT company in Oslo, Norway. We are talking about expanding her business. She says she is thinking about her neighbours in Scandinavia. But she has booked a Trade Fair place, in San Diego, USA. I ask – do you have a customer there?
“No – but we want to look at the USA, and this is a recognised Trade Fair.”
Logical enough. Except that the company can hardly stretch to getting out of the suburbs of genteel Oslo itself, but she and her husband did have a nice holiday in California a while back.
There is the CEO of a UK based health care vendor, and we are talking at her shared Booth in one of the big US conferences in International Drive, Orlando. And I ask her; “ what made you pick this one?”
“Well, we took a Board decision to look at an international market, and the USA is large in healthcare. We booked a place”.
There are no visitors to my friend’s booth, which is dwarfed by the much larger domestic US vendors, and the location is nowhere near the other Start-Ups that have got pride of place”.
Sometime after, I enquire how it all went etc. “Oh,. Well nobody came to see us, so we concluded there is no market for us there”.
There are golden rules about developing a business, the first of which is that you must think internationally even from concept – it is unlikely that your domestic market will be enough in the medium term; and the second is, never pick a market where you had a great vacation, or where a few days near Disney can justify the excuse of a “business investigation”.
The other obvious set in stone mantra, is that the more local your business expansion, step by step, the better it will be. You can make your mistakes quickly, learn from them, without too much damage in time or money.
The proof of the above wisdom, is that the key to success anywhere, is preparation. This takes time and effort in emails, phone calls, discussions, prior to ever setting foot anywhere different. It is so much easier to focus your resources on places that are nearer to home, because the chances are exponentially higher that you will understand their culture, their way of doing things, that ultimately will make all the difference.
All of which makes the current UK focus on long distance trade etc, a bit of a nonsense. It just is not practical. It takes too long, and the inherent “short-termism” of UK businesses, mean there is no room for business process, the art of developing relationships in the medium term.
In other words, what we are risking doing, is replacing actual results, with simple activity. It “looks” like we are doing something – but we are not actually achieving anything.
What to do?
The answer, is to step by step look around at the next street, the next town, the next country. Looking at the next Continent, unless you are already everywhere else – may be a bridge too far. And you won’t need the airmiles anyway. Be thankful.