WHEN SHELLEY STOCK HUTTER was set up in 1989, our clients were predominantly based in and around London. The business world was a very different place and international expansion looked very different to the way it does today. For many SMEs it was not an option or even on the agenda.
Communication by letter and fax was as quick as you were going to get with communication. Email was accepted by 'techies' towards the late 80s and it was the mid-1990s before everyone was waking up to new technology. If you needed to agree something quickly with a client overseas, it meant getting on a plane.
Fast forward to 2013 and of course the working world is a global one. Business has become quicker, easier and even the smallest SMEs can set their sights far and wide. The huge advancements and access to technology such as email, Skype, video conferencing and smartphones has meant businesses can look abroad for expansion in new and exciting ways.
Over the last few years this has been one of the most significant changes for our client base. Many are still based in London and the South-East, but an increasing number have now expanded into fast growth foreign markets or are selling their products in multiple countries. Some are looking at setting up branches or businesses abroad and some may be looking at simply running an event or specific project. Over the years we have built-up a strong network of independent firms around the world to support our clients and work with us in foreign jurisdictions. It has worked well and we have the capability to work with clients who operate globally in an efficient and proactive way.
In addition given our international work we have seen huge growth in demands from international clients looking at inward investment. International businesses are looking at setting up operations in the UK as our tax regime becomes more attractive and the opportunities that the recovery will offer begin to present themselves.
It is clear that the ability to support domestic businesses expanding internationally (as well as international businesses looking to set up in the UK) will be a key service area for the profession over the next decade.
As SSH celebrates its 25th Birthday next year we have recognised that now is the time to formalise our relationship and work within an international network. This will allow the firm to support our clients in the countries where we may not have a contact, but more importantly offer a rapid, seamless and integrated approach to international business. We may even get some referred work from the network along the way, but the key driver for our strategy is to be able to support clients whether needing to register for sales tax in a country or set up a new office.
While an exciting stage in our business, finding the right network is a challenge. For us it is not just about jumping in and getting going, we have built relationships over many years with our clients and the firms that we are using internationally all work in a similar way by maintaining their focus on a client. This has to be a successful partnership there has to be the right cultural fit, quality of service and passion to help a client build their business. That will clearly be the challenge as there will always be strong firms and weaker firms within a network but we believe that the right partner does exist that will help the firm to deliver all that will be asked from our clients over the coming years.
Bobby Lane is a partner at Shelley Stock Hutter
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