Published in ’53 Degrees’ – magazine of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
The chances of immediate success were minimal, I was told by my UKTI trade adviser. “But,” she said, “if you can afford to take the hit, go for it.” On Dragon’s Den, Peter Jones calls it a ‘punt’ – chancing your arm on that little spark of possibility that could easily fizzle and die, but equally could fire up an exciting opportunity.
And so it was that I landed in Tokyo, armed with a smattering of Japanese, a pamphlet on business etiquette and some Japanese business cards.
Beforehand, the UKTI office – attached to the British Embassy in Tokyo – had carefully sourced potential clients and produced a comprehensive report detailing who I was to meet and why they were interested. My Japanese trade advisor later told me it had been a challenge sourcing clients for my business. Most companies who go out on these things have a specific product to sell, whereas I was selling a service – in my case, a copywriting service that would improve on the ropey English translation often seen on websites and brochures.
My first meeting was held at the embassy the day after my arrival. Still jetlagged and bleary-eyed, I somehow summoned the energy to cheerily greet my potential clients from a Japanese PR agency. I had been briefed that the Japanese place a high premium on punctuality, expect you to study business cards rather than just stick them in your pocket and take a very formal approach. In the event, I’d ticked the first two boxes but found the atmosphere in the meeting to be very calm and relaxed.
The PR company boss and his colleagues seemed genuinely interested in what I had to offer and even produced a business model detailing how both our companies could work in partnership. I was impressed. This was more than I was expecting. At best, I’d hoped to suss out market potential, but here was an opportunity to work in partnership with a successful PR firm who already had a client base and the infrastructure to deal with it. Jetlag be damned, I was buzzing.
A few days later, the two company bosses attended a UKTI function at the embassy and we talked some more. The opportunities for my service were potentially huge, they said. With an aging society, local competition and economic stagnation, Japanese businesses are being forced to look outward and communicate more with the international community, and they want to get it right. We ended the night agreeing to work towards our common goals.
Other meetings were equally enlightening. Over the course of the week, I made new contacts and won business. Other delegates reported the same. One delegate signed a £40K contract, another had an interview posted on a Japanese website. Even with plenty of social media savvy, you don’t get these kinds of introductions from LinkedIn or Twitter. The British Embassy is well respected in Japan and the kudos that comes from a UKTI contact is invaluable. Added to which, face-to-face meetings count for so much more than an email or a chat on Skype. It lends you credibility and speaks volumes to the host country about your seriousness in doing business.
So, was it worth the punt? Yes, absolutely. I now have a much better understanding of the Japanese market and have already begun profitable business relationships.
The spark of possibility has certainly not fizzled. Instead, a whole new world of opportunity awaits.