Andy Rogers, co-chairman of the London Chapter of the Irish International Business Network (IIBN), explains why now is the time for Irish businesses to enter the British market.
Ireland’s economic situation finally appears to be showing some green shoots, which is most encouraging. In the past six months we have seen continued economic growth and, better still, a rise in employment figures. Add to this the votes of confidence we’ve received from credit ratings agencies Standard & Poors and Fitch, along with the deal on our bailout debt, the picture looks even brighter.
While experience would dictate that we throw caution to the wind, one can not help but feel that the worst is behind Ireland and those who managed to ride the wave, or those who successfully established themselves in the midst of the worst economic crisis on record, are well primed to grow positively in the coming months and years.
In the market for expansion
One problem that all growing indigenous businesses will encounter sooner or later is the limited size of Ireland’s market. With a population of only 4.5 million, international trade is essential for any Irish businesses aspiring to be considered a major success.
The obvious option for most entrepreneurs is Great Britain. As our closest neighbour and strongest trading partner – last year there was over €35bn of trade between the two countries – there are a number of benefits to breaking into the British market, most notably the similar culture, lack of barriers to entry and let’s not forget the 56 million potential customers inhabiting their island. Making things even more attractive is the tentative rise in consumer and business confidence; which, to put it simply, means people will start spending again.
Failing to plan…
In approaching the UK market, regardless of product or service, it is essential to have a clear and well-researched plan on how you are going to tackle the task. Despite similarities, the UK is a different market to Ireland. Enterprise Ireland provides considerable support to their clients in the UK. However, another key element in your plan should be utilising the many Irish business and social networks that exist across the UK.
To put our close ties with Britain in context, it is interesting to think that approximately one in eight (12.4%) people living there are first, second or third generation Irish. When you consider the vast numbers of Irish professionals living and working in Great Britain things start to look a little rosier.
According to the latest Eulogy! Foreign Directors Report, we make up the largest percentage of non-British directors in the country, with some 47,000 Irish people holding a director position in the UK. But what does this mean for Irish businesses hoping to establish themselves in Great Britain though?
For starters, it demonstrates the openness of the British to do business with the Irish. It also emphasises the level of integration that already exists between the two markets. Most importantly however, it means there is a well-established network of professionals, proud to be Irish and keen to assist their fellow countrymen in whatever way they can.
Creating a community
In the six years since the IIBN was set up in London, we’ve grown dramatically and now have chapters in Dublin, New York and London, with over 1,000 active members and a database of 3,000 contacts. The reason for this success is simple; Irish people like doing business with their fellow countrymen and we facilitate that need.
As one the most established not-for-profit, international Irish business networks, we have worked tirelessly to support Irish businesses, both domestically and abroad. By providing an environment where like-minded Irish business people can get to know one another, with an aim to doing business together, our ambition is to develop the world’s largest international business community.
Our members come from a wide range of backgrounds and varying levels of experience, from start-ups to multinational, directors and serial entrepreneurs with an eye on the global market. Just as broad are their reasons for joining. For some it’s about generating new business leads within and across the network chapters; while for others it’s the quality events and world-class Irish entprepreneurs who share their success stories with members, or simply members gaining access to the information available to them.
To illustrate this, below are two examples of very different members both benefiting their businesses. As a partner at Enterprise Lab and the sole non-Ireland based member of the Irish Government’s Export Trade Council, Pól Ó Móráin’s business is all about helping client companies and government organisations to expand their business into new markets. In addition to help and advice offered in the British market, he has found that IIBN members in Britain are more internationally focused with far reaching connections. They’ve been able to provide him with the introductions necessary to propel his clients onto the global stage, a unique benefit that has set his company apart from competitors. At the end of 2012, Ó Móráin’s used the network to arrange meetings between Bord Bia and some of Sri Lanka’s top business leaders.
Imagist London, has also used the IIBN to great effect in establishing its reputation as a leading Irish owned brand identity consultancy. Owner, Colm Roche, has embraced his Irish identity and the ‘two degrees of separation’ that exists among the Irish to develop a broad range of connections. Highlighting that most of his business comes through referral, he cites the relationships he has developed with the Irish community as a major factor in helping establish his business initially in the UK.
Andy Rogers is co-chairman for the IIBN London Chapter, a not-for-profit organisation that brings Irish entrepreneurs and business people together.