Exporting to Scandinavia – 3 Tips

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Export is seen as one of the ways in which the UK will pull itself out of recession and into growth. British entrepreneurs that want to take their business across the border should look in the northern direction, says journalist Jon Card. Here are a couple of his tips to set up business in the chilly north!

The countries that make up Scandinavia, that is Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, have a good relationship with the UK; their command of English is very high and there are many similarities between the Scandinavian and British culture.

It is thus no surprise that British companies that wish to expand their business try to enter the Scandinavian market. Moreover, the stability of the Scandinavian countries with their democratic and rational slant on life make them good export partners. However, the friendly nature of Scandinavia does not mean every company that tries to tap into the market will succeed.

Card has given a few guidelines which will help British companies to introduce their products to the Scandinavian market.

1. Come prepared

Nick Rines, chief executive officer of the Institute of Diplomacy and Business: ‘Meetings are run to agenda and everyone takes their turn to speak. Individuals are expected to be fully briefed to support the points they make. Interruptions are not encouraged, and a show of emotion is considered a weakness.’ The rational personality of the Scandinavians also shows through in their manner of negotiating. Rines says that Scandinavians do not use confrontational arguments to negotiate, but base them on logical discussion. This means entrepreneurs should thoroughly prepare their meetings and must make sure they have the right figures to back up their claims.

2. Everyone has a say

Contrary to the hierarchical structure of most British companies, Scandinavian businesses make sure everyone is involved in the decision-making process. As a consequence, it’s very difficult to close a deal on the spot and the consensual nature of the Scandinavians can delay decision making. Rines states that ‘Although there are defined hierarchy structures within companies, Scandinavians like to run affairs based on consensus, particularly in Sweden.’ He agrees that the large number of people that has a say in the decision inevitably causes delays.

3. Less is more

When travelling to Scandinavia for business, you better leave your expensive watch and shoes at home! Showing off definitely isn’t appreciated in the regional culture. Status and items that show off wealth are less important in Scandinavia than in most other countries, Rines says. ‘An aversion to overtly expensive clothes combined with an open, liberal, non-confrontational environment, means a company chief executive can easily be mistaken for a junior.’

Next to these three tips on how to enter the Scandinavian market, Card also gives the stage to two entrepreneurs who have managed to successfully set up business in Scandinavia.

First, there is Paul Lindley, founder and CEO of Ella’s Kitchen, a premium baby foods company. Lindley’s company had a 41 million pound revenue last year: five of those came from Scandinavia. Lindley: ‘We worked with UKTI and we researched five markets which we thought would be ready for premium baby food. Sweden came out top, and Scandinavia looked to be a great market, as its people are very health conscious and well educated, and there are dominant retailers like there are in the UK.’

According to Lindley, selecting the right agents is a vital step in the export process. Some of these agents approached him directly, while others were introduced to him by UKTI. Linley says that competence and quality were two important traits when picking out agents. He also acknowledges the benefits that entering the Scandinavian market has had for his company. Scandinavian countries such as Sweden ‘are big enough to be worth the effort, but not so huge that they are scary.’

Entrepreneur number two is Tony Goodwin. Goodwin is the chairman and CEO of executive recruitment company Antal International and says about 12-15 per cent of the company’s annual turnover stems from business with Scandinavia. Because of the size of the region, Scandinavia has a great deal of big companies such as Volvo and Ericsson that require business professionals. According to Goodwin, this means the region is a good market for his services: ‘We often gain contracts with them through the back door, by working with major companies in the developing world first and then using this as leverage to gain business in their home countries… where there’s a good manufacturing base, such as in Scandinavia, there should be rich pickings for us.’

Although the company has entered the Swedish market in 1997, it now wants to expand to Norway and Finland. Goodwin encourages other British businesses to head north as well. According to him, the region hasn’t ‘suffered as much as other markets from the recession. It’s also quite a stable country which has companies that are expanding… It’s a good first market for entrepreneurs to aim for when expanding overseas.’ Goodwin also says to just pick up the phone and give them a call – they’ll speak English anyway!

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