A Capital Opportunity
Scotland is an amazing place for business - continuing to generate beautiful, innovative and disruptive new players of a caliber to inspire and terrify nearby markets in equal measure - However, when it comes to spreading their wings internationally, London remains an unrivaled jumping off point for Scottish businesses - But where in this big scary city is a new arrival to start? Here's the story of my businesses inaugural visit to the capital, and the invaluable support I received from the Scottish Business Network.
Jumping off the plane at Gatwick this week was both a familiar and an unsettling experience for me: Familiar because I have made the trip to London countless times over the years representing various clients and employers. Unsettling because this time was different - this time I was representing myself, and the small but rapidly expanding tech business Oncor Video that I conceived just over a year ago.
Even with weeks of preparation for the trip, setting up numerous meetings with related operators in the capital, nothing quite prepares you for the feeling of nakedness of arriving in this big city without the comfort blanket of a big, established brand to protect you.
Fortunately for me, I had been invited to join and speak in front of the Scottish Business Network. The SBN is a members only organisation created to facilitate greater communication and connections across the global Scottish business community. Membership is by invitation or introduction and it is restricted to those members of the Scottish diaspora who hold leadership roles.
Intimidating as this might sound, the group itself couldn't be more welcoming. Imagine a room full of people who were once just like you, who had made those same shaky first steps onto London soil, but who have ultimately made their success in the capital. Imagine every one of them rooting for your success and bursting to share the invaluable advice, connections and even leads they have gathered over their own time there.
Having done my research (and even a flying reccy of the event) I knew that this is what I had this waiting for me and, even through my nerves at having to present in front such formidable collective business acumen, the thought gave me much comfort.
(By the way, I'm a trained lecturer and have spent probably thousands of hours speaking in front of large crowds - I'm here to tell you, the nerves never quite go away - but more importantly, in all that time I've never encountered anything up there to be worried about - so never avoid public speaking just because it makes you nervous, it's always worth it)
Anyway, after a day of becoming repeatedly lost on the underground (it takes about one day to get the hang of, but what a day...) eventually finding my Air B&B (much cheaper and more comfortable than London hotels) and tracking down my first few meetings, I quickly began to feel at home.
The odd thing was, with every new meeting an unexpected pattern began to emerge. Where the London based businesses I met with had a huge advantage in terms of readily available networks and large clientele, the sheer cost of running a business in the capital meant they were having to swim furiously just to keep their heads above water.
In Scotland, where a business can (relatively speaking) survive on a modest volume of clients, we have the luxury of time. Time to strategise, time to look at new markets & services and time, most importantly, to grow into something special and unique.
This, I discovered, was time that the demands of a full-time London location do not permit. This creates a dark background against which it is easy for a Scottish newcomer to shine.
Armed with the confidence of this newfound knowledge, I spend an exhausting but happy day setting up several really promising relationships with clients and agencies of a scale I might never have dared to approach in Scotland (alongside my colleague Karen Power I even got to pitch against the likes of Saatchi!). But nothing prepared me of the main event...
Every Scottish Business Network event is hosted at a new (and seemingly more impressive) venue. My first reconnoiter there found us in the illustrious Bristows LLP opposite Blackfriars, this time we were hosted by Aberdeen Asset Management in their state of the art facilities at Bow Bells House on Bread Street. To maintain excitement, the next venue is always a mystery until much nearer the event.
Welcomed by the ever friendly founders Christine Esson and Russel Dalgliesh, I was able to set up my presentation and briefly get to know the other speakers of the night. Again the caliber was intimidatingly high, the first speaker - Maggie Georgopoulos - is an award winning international Engineer, HR professional, Leader and Author of Up the Ladder in a Skirt who delivered a truly inspirational talk on awareness of women's mental health in the workplace.
Finally, little 'ol me with what felt by comparison to be a rather dull pitch for help for a fledgling tech startup. Nevertheless the audience were friendly and smiling, and when it came to the end of my talk had lots of questions about the company, who we liked working with, what could be done with our Video, V.R. and Targeted Distribution technology...
And then came the offers of assistance...
Christine Esson prompted me, like the other speakers, to "make my ask" and request specific assistance for my business from the audience. I asked for connections to anyone who might benefit from our blend of video tech, market analysis and online distribution.
First a member of the crowd (who it later transpired leads one of the world's leading data security organisations) offered to connect my company to the National Trust, seeing an opportunity for 3D scanning to record and protect valuable heritage properties throughout the country.
Next I was offered a connection to the next generation electrical car equivalent of Formula 1 - known as "Formula E".
Here the potential for 360 degree live video capture was recognised as an opportunity for the viewer to "take part" in the race from the drivers' perspectives using the new generation of V.R. headsets.
Next was a PR agency, then a Marketing company, then two Web Design collaboratives, then two more Creative agencies, then so many more offers I lost count...
And that was just the start - I got off the stage and was approached by a string of business owners, non executive directors, agency bosses. I actually ran out of business cards and ended up holding so many (with so many hastily scribbled notes of who to contact and how they could help me) that I was mainly worried about remembering everything later.
Now anyone who has presented at a large event will know the "5 minute rock-star" effect; which means upon walking off the stage a lot of people will make a lot of promises and then, shortly thereafter, both will vanish into the night never to be seen again...
Well, not this time.
Once I had recovered from the deluge of support, joined everyone in a post event libation at a nearby (and suddenly extremely busy) bar, had some much needed dinner and sleep, the emails immediately started pouring in... Specific contact details of people hastily mentioned the previous night, other offers the respondents hadn't thought of until getting home, requests for face to face meetings, email introductions...
The event was on Tuesday, it is now Sunday night and I still haven't been able to respond to everyone. Suffice it to say, I was planning to go down to London again in a months time, but it looks like I'll now be having meetings there every week for the foreseeable future.
If you feel restricted by the Scottish market, are struggling to make the connections you need to grow internationally, or have already considered entering the London market but been put off by the scale of the challenge, procrastinate no more. You have a support network just waiting for you.
Contact Christine Esson, explain your business and your intentions and, if you're as lucky as I was, you might be the next person presenting on that stage, and coming home to a whole new world of opportunities.