Death of the Courteous Reply

On an almost daily basis I am astonished at the lack of response from people I email. Some of them I know and some of them I don’t. Some of the emails that I send are to friends or colleagues and some are sent for business reasons to people I know and some I don’t know. But no matter, there are still a number of people who just don’t respond. I wonder… should I take this personally? In short, the answer is no.  Why not? I think of it as people leading busy lives. It kind of lets them off the hook and somehow it says that it’s ok. But in a business setting we all are busy and yes we do receive the odd email wanting something from you that you just are not interested in giving. This has become a cultural epidemic in some countries and some cultures and I suppose it has  somehow become acceptable. But, there are many countries and cultures that find this lack of response both disrespectful and offensive. I was given some very sound advice in the early 90’s: “Bill, never be rude or disrespectful to a Headhunter. One day you may need one as a friend…..;-)”. I have since applied this to many areas in my professional life with great success, and most specifically, when dealing with other cultures.

So, when receiving emails from someone whom you are not interested in communicating with, think about taking a couple of seconds to write them back and at least telling them, “thanks but no thanks”. You never know. You may find that one day you need something from them.

Regards,

Bill

bill.hite@hullspeedassociates.com

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Expanding abroad – Step 2:

This is the second part of a series on steps to take while planning, beginning and executing your expansion abroad.

As mentioned in my last blog entry I am sharing the experiences we gain at Hull Speed Associates as we assist our clients in expanding abroad. The experiences I share are real situations of how we encourage our clients, and the pragmatic steps we take to help them in this process. I urge you to share your comments by clicking the comments button below. Oh, and please subscribe to the blog if you have not done so already ;-).

The second step is the beginning of the expansion phase, choosing a location(s) to establish the legal entity(s).  As all seasoned and successful business people would agree, execution is where the rubber meets the road so getting this right at this phase will save time, money and headaches in the future.

The successful result of the first step is gaining enough traction to where you are comfortable enough to take that next big step and that is……… setting up a legal entity. This is a lot like getting married. You enter into a legal arrangement, you take on tax and legal liability, you are financially accountable to a higher being, you have to do a lot of things you normally don’t like to do and you have accountability. Is this a big step…? Oh yeah!  This can be a terrifying experience unless you have the right expertise or engage the right experts and have the right people on board. We cannot cover every example but I would like to cover a few of the more popular “destinations”. So over the next few entries I will highlight a few examples and possibly co-write a few with the input and help of some of the people I have worked with over the years.

I would like to start off with the “American Invasion”. I can hear it now “Oh god no! Another American invasion…?”.  As a number of people predicted, Europe has started to see an increase of US companies begin re-entry into Europe after a rather long -for US standards – retreat as a result of the recession.  What strikes me is how similar their patterns are compared to 15 years ago.  Instead of first focusing on a location that would be a better fit to their market, they first look to countries where native English is spoken, or to countries which are darn close. Is this a mistake…? Yes and no, but we won’t solve this question on this entry. I would like to first focus on the most popular venue I have experienced over the past 15 years, the UK.

In the next entry I will start to lay out a description of each type of entity we found, the pros of each entity and the related cons.  So please subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out.

Regards,

Bill

bill.hite@hullspeedassociates.com

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Expanding abroad – Step 1:

This is the first part of a series on steps to take while planning and starting your expansion abroad.

As mentioned in the header of my blog, I would like to share the experiences we gain at Hull Speed Associates as we assist our clients in expanding abroad. The experiences I share are real situations of how we encourage our clients, and the pragmatic steps we take to help them in this process. I urge you to share your comments by clicking the comments button below. Oh, and please subscribe to the blog if you have not done so already ;-).

The first step in all successful business moves, besides the odd luck which may cross your path, are planning and preparation. This point I cannot stress enough. I can hear it now, “Bill, of course, now move on….”. Actually this is the first step and believe it or not it is a step that a lot of companies who begin this venture miss to do or miss completely. Along with a solid go-to-market strategy, by starting off with at least a budget – and I mean a realistic budget – you quickly watch the financial and time requirements emerge while reality ebbs in. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare your expansion plans.

  1. Setting realistic goals – What is your motivation? What do you want to achieve in the short-term? How will the move to expand abroad help your company short-, mid-, and long-term? Does expanding abroad actually complement your overall company strategy over the next 36 months? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself before planning. Yet, most importantly, set realistic goals. Don’t make the mistake so many companies have made over the years, telling yourself what you want to hear and not being realistic about what it will take to have a successful expansion abroad and the amount of time to achieve them.
  2. Location – “can we manage our expansion abroad from home or do we need to have local people on the ground?”. Without getting into a lot of examples, of which there are many, the short answer is local. No one knows their market better than the people who live and work there day in day out. So learn from others who have failed, “Kids, don’t try this at home…”, go local!
  3. People – employees vs. contractor. This will dictate when you make the commitment of opening a legal entity. Most discussions we have with clients or prospective clients start with this topic. The most common questions we have encountered lately are: “Can we hire people without committing the capital and expense of founding a legal entity before we know if we can gain traction or not?”, and “Can we do this on the cheap?”. The answer is yes you can, but it comes at a cost. Most of our clients over the past few years have started off hiring a contractor who will focus on gaining traction to prove that your go-to-market strategy works. You will, however, find that unearthing that right person who knows your market, who has the experience and network to begin quickly and hit the ground running, and who is willing to do this as a contractor – at least in the beginning – will be hard to find no matter what country you start in.
  4. Financial commitment – We consistently find that companies underestimate the financial commitment required to gain traction and become successful in their expansion abroad. Two fundamental elements in expanding abroad are consistently underestimated: the time it takes, and the money that is required. Both go hand in hand. Prepare what you think is a realistic budget, then double the time you think it will take to gain the traction you want and add a 20% buffer onto what you think it will cost. Then take a step back and look at what you see and ask your self this one important question: “Can we really afford to do this?”. Whether it is the time it will take or the financial commitment required, never underestimate the time and related costs involved for you to gain the traction you want.

These are just a few of the basics to consider as you start planning and preparing for your expansion abroad.

Regards,

Bill

Bill.hite@hullspeedassociates.com

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The Rebirth of the Old fashioned Email Etiquette

I am a member of The FENG, the secret society for Financial Executives…;-). One of the daily emails I recently received from this society addressed etiquette in writing a cover letter when responding to a job ad and the effect this could have on the response you receive, if any. It reminded me of a comment a former colleague of mine made to me in my first German start up back in the late 90’s. She said: “Are you really this mad at Gunnar?” I looked at her, puzzled, and asked what she was talking about. She went on to say, “You wrote an email without a greeting or ending. In Germany if you send a one line email it means you are mad at the person and it is considered rude.” Still astonished and with a sinking feeling of horror I replied, “Of course I’m not mad!” and I went into damage control mode. What I know now – and what I didn’t know then – is that there is a code of etiquette around the world in writing emails. I have had the privilege of living and working outside of my home country now for the past 13 to 14 years and in this time one of the very basic things I learned early on was email etiquette.

It is actually quite simple. You start with a greeting “Dear Mr./Ms. Smith, Hi Soandso-san, Goodmorning Hr. Grabenstruddle”, you ask them if they are having a good day, you get to your point and you end with a simple “Best Regards, Sincerely, Mit freundlichen Gruessen, etc…” and then sign your name. Sound ridiculous or superfluous? Actually, it’s not. In the US one liner emails are more than common. This is how people communicate, or lack there of. However, throughout the rest of the business world I have found in every culture I have worked in outside of the US, which are many, people find this offensive, rude and in some cases it will end up black listing you. “Bill, what is the point?” I have been asked many times. Simple answer? Respect. First, in their culture using greetings as I describe above is commonplace. Second, it shows that you, as a foreigner, have taken the time and have given them the respect of writing an email in the style and format they are accustomed to.

So, as you venture into expanding abroad please remember that deals are won and lost in the details. Respect is always a winner! 🙂

Regards,

Bill

bill.hite@hullspeedassociates.com

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The Unofficial “Official”! Newly founded GmbH beware

Nobody likes to be taken advantage of, and certainly not when you are starting a new business or expanding abroad.  Many think that they are more likely to fall prey to scam artists when they are faced with business in a foreign language or in dealing with foreign authorities. Not so, unfortunately.

I recently incorporated my business in Germany, Hull Speed Associates GmbH, and soon after the company was registered I was inundated with forms to fill out, questionnaires to send in, etc. Welcome to “paper-full” Germany! Before receiving forms from the Finanzamt, the German IRS, to register for a tax number I received two very official looking “invoices” asking Hull Speed to pay EURO 500+ for each invoice. A bell rang in the back of my mind and took me back about 11 years when I first encountered this, so I took the time to read the fine print on the “official” letters. These so-called invoices came from private companies specializing in collecting company names and related data to place in their database for resale. The fine print went on to basically say that ‘your company information will be placed in our database but we cannot guarantee any benefit will come of it’… So for EURO 500 my company has the privilege of adding its company data into a database of a company I have never heard of with no guarantee of benefit. Does that sound like a good deal? I don’t think so.

Yet due to the official look and feel and terminology of these letters can you imagine how many law-abiding and rule following Germans blindly pay this?  My guess is more than we would think. For example, my former colleague and close German friend also recently founded a GmbH, received three such letters and because “Bill, I just had a lot to do..” blindly paid the “invoices”. After payment was made and having some time to read the fine print he discovered he was hoodwinked and swindled out of over EURO 1,500. Stupid? No. Careless? Yes.

Swindlers are everywhere, so read the fine print. And when in doubt, ask a colleague or us at Hull Speed Associates to read it over for you, just to keep you out of some puddles of troubled water that could turn out to be more expensive than you think! Blog 3_March_2011 image

bill.hite@hullspeedassociates.com

Posted in Legal office | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Where to begin?

For some time I have wanted to start this blog but until now did not find the right forum. Also, and many of you who know me will agree with this, I am not much of a writer, yet  I view this blog as a way of sharing my experiences in working in an international environment. At University my first interest in international business developed. I even wrote a paper during my senior year focusing on FAS 52 (this sounds really geeky, I know) but at the time I had no idea I would actually be in a position to where I could use this information. Especially to the extent that I have. So, 24+ years later, here I am in this world called Internet and its venue offers me the opportunity to share my experiences. I hope you at least walk away from each new posting learning one new thing.

“Where to begin?” This was the first question that came to my mind in 1996 when my boss, the CFO of ON Technology, said to me: “Hite, we are about to buy Technocom Plc, a major distributor. Get with Shealy and figure out what we need to do to ensure we meet our 10Q deadline. Oh, and fly over there and figure out what they are doing….”. This was classic John – throw Hite in the deep end to see if he swims. This was our first effort in expanding abroad after a successful IPO in 1995. We had no idea of how to integrate the two reporting entities, not to mention how to do it between a US and UK Company with two different reporting rules and reporting cultures. The next 2 years would be life changing for me. We soon opened offices in Paris, Munich, and Sydney. At an early phase of my career I was faced with the basic questions that Hull Speed Associates, the company I founded and manage, now solves. What legal entity is best for us? How do we organize and pay payroll? How do we accurately report monthly and how do we pay expenses?

I am really excited about this blog as I know those of you reading it all have or have had these questions and more. I welcome your feedback and for you to share your own experiences.

Regards,

Bill

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