A year and a half ago I wrote a piece for my blog about how I’d decided not to grow my business. The thrust of this unpublished masterpiece was the current uncertainty around Brexit, our future relationship with the EU and where some of my key markets would end up made it unwise to take on the debt required to build the brand I was forming. Instead of growing, I went into survival mode, hoarding cash as I worked through options for the future.
Before the referendum I was seeing signs I could build a business greater than just me. Sure, to start with I might have lent a little on freelancers and contractors to reduce my risk. I might have employed non-British nationals and I dare say the tax I paid would have fallen as I invested in marketing, people and capabilities. The plans I formed were sound, had good assumptions and after a couple of tough years I would have seen traction and momentum.
Brexit ended that. A sales funnel I’d carefully nurtured over several months fell away within a week of the referendum. Projects went on hold as potential clients paused their own investments. None of the projects I’d come close to signing went ahead. It wasn’t I didn’t win them, they just didn’t happen. Business started to dry up.
Survival mode was hard.
Savings that were supposed to be used to invest in the business were spent on keeping it afloat. Projects came in here and there, mostly dribs and drabs that kept the wolves from the door but little else. I watched my markets stutter and fade as attention turned away from making amazing new stuff to making do.
Throughout this I heard a steady stream of “encouragement” from Brexiteers. I was told, either directly or through calls to industry, to have confidence in the UK. I should invest in my business because the post-EU UK would be a strong, global player. I was told to my face it was my “patriotic duty” to build a stronger business. Any suggestion this wasn’t as easy as the slogans suggested was met with “you’re not trying hard enough” or “you’re part of project fear”.
I’ve seen this happen on a larger scale. Warnings from Airbus, the Financial Services sector, the manufacturing sector have all been met with scorn. From behind their anonymous avatars, Brexit keyboard warriors have unleashed their extensive macro and micro economic research that contradicts every concern business has.
A goodbye to Brexit Britain
Finally I turned away from plans to grow a UK business. All thoughts of expansion here “at home” faded. Instead of pitching for new clients I took a contract, a pure money play as the new ideas formed. Now my UK home is sold and the money is sitting waiting for my departure.
There is an irony in my approach. I’m creating something that will be seen as a huge win for the Brexiteers. My new business will be established in the UK and all revenues will be booked here. In the fullness of time it might be held up as a shining example of how post-Brexit business can flourish.
Yet it will pay no UK tax beyond basic VAT as every penny will be sent overseas. It will employ no British Nationals on British soil. To gain unfettered access to TPP and EU markets it will have overseas branches where it will pay tax. Like a ship sailing under a flag of convenience, my business’s website will say it is a UK business, even though it operates out of Japan.
And when that convenience no longer matters I will simply ramp up a branch and close the UK business down. No jobs lost. No tax income lost. Just a shell fading away.
Brexit has forced me to change my plans.
What would have been a consulting practice employing people in the UK has become an international business that won’t. To obtain access to two of the world’s largest trading blocs, I’ve explored opening branches in other countries. My mindset has changed completely from growing a UK based business to building one that is international and happens (for now) to be headquartered in London.
Maybe I’ve done exactly what the Brexiteers wanted. They wanted me to expand outside the UK and grasp these new global opportunities. I’ve done that, even before they’ve left the EU. I’m just not sure they’re going to like the way I’ve done it.
I guess that’s the consequence of adopting a truly global mindset.