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Blog 30.01.2020

Adventures in the UK? Hard homework for Finnish companies

I have been advising Finnish companies on how best to enter the UK market for 18 years now, so I’m confident I know a thing or two about Finns and Brits.
Digitalization
ICT & Digitalization
AI Business Finland
Smart Mobility Finland
Digital Trust Finland
Author
Perry Le Dain

Senior Advisor
London, the United Kingdom
+44 786 778 1237
perry.ledain (at) businessfinland.fi

I sense there is a lot of empathy between us as people: we have fairly similar national personalities, although sometimes we express them quite differently. Both Finns and Brits are industrious, educated, and headstrong. We both come from the edges of Europe, and we both put pride in doing things in our own quirky ways. You have sisu and we have the stiff upper lip.

This similarity in personalities shows in business, too. United Kingdom has always been a very desirable market for Finnish companies – and vice versa. I joined Business Finland's London office in 2001, during the high noon of the Nokia era. Back then the UK was hungry for everything Finnish that had anything to do with mobile phones. Nowadays, the Finnish business invasion has diversified from telecommunications technology to other digital innovations, healthcare solutions, cleantech, gaming, and many other fields of business.

The UK is very welcoming to foreign companies in three ways: commercially, legally, and culturally. Commercially it is a massive market with a population of nearly 70 million people. In many cases gaining a foothold on the UK market can also open wider global possibilities for a business: succeeding in the UK shows you can very likely succeed anywhere. Legally there are no significant issues in the UK, entering into agreements and creating deals is uncomplicated and straightforward. And culturally we have always been open to new influences, ideas and people, no matter their origin. Britain is at its core a multicultural nation – and not even Brexit can change that.

Homework required!

But because the UK market is so enticing for companies not only from Finland but from everywhere, this also means it is a tough market to crack and competition can be fierce. The thing I would want every Finnish company to understand is that certain business dynamics in the UK work very differently from how they do in Finland.

Any Finnish company dreaming of entering the UK market must have a very strong value proposition. 

Many Finnish businesses feel they are in their comfort zone when they get to talk about their wonderful technology. But for the British business decision-makers, technology is rarely the most important thing – what matters is the value it is able to provide. Any Finnish company dreaming of entering the UK market must have a very strong value proposition. They must do their homework, understand their target audience, and offer a compelling value proposition that addresses this audience in a meaningful way.

Another difference comes from the size of our two nations. As Finland has a population of only five and a half million people, almost everybody knows almost everybody, and sales dynamics can be very straightforward. In the UK the route to market can be considerably more intricate. The sheer size of business ecosystems here makes sales dynamics far more complex and you have to try a lot harder to sell. This barrier can also be overcome with diligent homework and closely studying what routes to your particular market work and what are the best ways to penetrate your ecosystem.

Your Cheshire Cat for business adventures

These two barriers take the most thought work to overcome. Rearticulating your value proposition even more meaningfully, can feel exhausting when you may have already achieved certain success with it in Finland. The same goes for rethinking your route to market in a new environment, if you are already further down that path in Finland. But these are steps you must take if you truly want to make an impact in the UK. As the Cheshire Cat says to Alice: "if you only walk long enough", you're sure to get somewhere.

But like Alice in Wonderland, Finnish companies on their adventures in the UK can also benefit from the help and support of friends. In my role as Senior Advisor at Business Finland, I have worked with hundreds of Finnish companies, introducing them to local networks and business communities, teaming them up with useful partners, and helping them overcome various barriers of entry to the UK market.

In addition to assisting with the more strategic issues such as constructing meaningful value propositions or planning effective routes to market, Business Finland and our local expert partners also do a lot of concrete hands-on work. For example, last November we  organized a seminar on how to construct an excellent business pitch, how to make a positive impression in meetings and how to use body language to boost your credibility. We also work closely with the Finnish ambassador in London and regularly host delegations in cooperation with the embassy to drive business and knowledge to our wonderful Finnish companies.

I hope this short article has made you consider the many positive opportunities the United Kingdom can offer for Finnish business. The competition is tough, but with enough sisu and thorough homework, the rewards can be great. Let's make United Kingdom our goal!

Perry Le Dain on video: how to enter the UK markets

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