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Updated 4 Jul 2014

London is an international city famous for its business and cultural diversity; from bankers to fashion designers and Information Technology to creative industries. These businesses can be found in many shapes and sizes all over London; solopreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses, large corporations and social enterprises and charities.

London also has a strong charity and social enterprise culture, and for the past few years this has been a growth area for entrepreneurs. Starting a charity or a social enterprise can be very tax efficient and therefore appealing to some businesses.

On top of that, television programmes like Dragon’s Den and the Apprentice have been hugely popular, and have resulted in an increase in investors willing to financially support innovative ideas and the government introducing incentives for promising start-ups.


Business culture in London

Business culture in London is similar to that of the US in that it is informal. But expats might find that the English are not as direct as elsewhere.

The English network is based on a sort of farming – you have to sow before you can harvest; warm referrals, not instant business card swapping.

Doing business in London is based on trust; an English person has to get to know you and your business first before they will refer or introduce you to their business contacts.

It is very normal to do business in an informal environment in London; for instance, meeting at a private member’s club or at a coffee shop. As long as you can find a private corner to talk, it is widely accepted to do business outside the office environment in London.

There are lots of networking opportunities throughout London for breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks, and a few that specifically focus on female entrepreneurs. One way to find out which network would be most suitable is simply to sign up for trial meetings of different business network groups. A mixture of different networks can be a valuable asset for your business.


Starting a business in London

As an expat it is simple to start a business. Everyone can be a solopreneur; basically starting a business from behind your kitchen table by opening a business bank account, registering your business at HMRC, printing some business cards and setting up a website or blog.

Expats will find that they often don’t need a formal office space when starting a business in London. There are lots of places where you can plug in your computer, grab a cup of coffee and network with other entrepreneurs around you. 

Unlike in some other European countries, it doesn’t cost a lot to start a limited company in the UK. A limited company gives you a more professional outlook and it is easy to register your business via Companies House.

Unlike elsewhere, the UK and specifically in London, women are encouraged to start their own business.

Expat business people vary in age, sex, background and interests, so starting a business in London can be done at any age or level of experience.


Support for business in London

Throughout the year there are lots of opportunities to visit exhibitions about starting your own business or starting a franchise.

The government encourages people to start their own businesses. There is a lot of free help available to start a new business via the official website, www.gov.uk.There is also an investment scheme that was launched by the government in April 2012. The scheme gives investors up to 78 percent tax relief on investments into small start-up companies (www.seis.co.uk).


Do's and don'ts of business in London

Do

  • Shake hands, introduce yourself and explain your business. Politeness is essential.

  • Start a discussion or meeting with a general talk about an uncontroversial topic such as the weather or the city.

  • Dress smartly but not too flashily.

  • Take your time over negotiations; listen carefully to what the English say as they use the language to give clues about their negotiating position.

  • Ask advice from other business people. They are always willing to help and it is a good way to open a conversation.

Don’t

  • Get personal; keep it professional. The English do not tend to talk about personal topics unless they know you very well

  • Be too generous; offer a drink or maybe dinner but do not overdo it or they will consider that you are trying to bribe them

  • Expect to become a close business contact immediately; the English build up relationships over a long time.

  • Show your emotions – the English find it hard to deal with and will think that you are unreliable.

  • Discuss business at a social occasion unless someone asks you about it. It is acceptable to mention your job or business but not to try and promote it unless someone asks you about it. 

Nicolette Wykeman Our Expat Expert

I came to London in April 2009 as an expatriate partner without a career. Having been the owner of a successful coaching company ‘2 Wykeman Coaching’ in Amsterdam for 5 years, I now found myself with expert skills but without a career. As such, I have spent the last three years building specialist knowledge in the London career market, including as a business advisor for the Chamber of Commerce helping people starting up their own business. Through my long-standing international career and my experience in London I have built an extensive and variable business and social network which I like sharing with newcomers to London. Website: www.wykeman.com

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