Businesses will need specialised staff capable of analysing the Brexit timetable, structural shifts, and impending changes for business. Essentially a Brexit compliance officer.
They should also utilise business networks to gain Brexit insights.
Firms must take advantage of key governmental support systems like the Making Tax Digital project, VAT simplification and Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Also worth exploring is Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status. For businesses reliant on EU trade or with a cross-border supply chain, AEO or trusted trader status could reduce bureaucracy and speed up custom procedures.
Also stay ahead of the curve by registering for email updates from the Department of Exiting the European Union (DExEU).
Stephen Hoad, chief executive of the Stop Hunter, Canterbury
Confucius said: “Study the past, if you would divine the future.” History has shown us that Britain became great by trading and thinking globally. Change brings opportunity and Brexit is that. It may be painful but “either you run the day or the day runs you” according to Jim Rohn. “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills” says an old Chinese proverb and now is not the time to build walls. It’s time we became business ‘smart thinkers’ once more: adaptable, creative, entrepreneurial (ACE) if we are to succeed. As Tim Cook said: “You can focus on things that are barriers or you can focus on scaling the wall or redefining the problem”. Remember what Alexander Graham Bell said: “When one door closes another opens.”
Companies need to have an Option B and have contingencies ready for implementation. It is no good saying the future is so uncertain that we can’t plan or 'we’ll wait and see' .
Assumptions can be made about exchange rates and the effects of these for costs and prices. It is reasonable to guess that inflation will be at about 2.5% in 2018 and that interest rates will stay as they are for the next couple of years.
Also, EU staff can be reassured by employers that they will have job security for the next few years at least and there is no need for them to pack their bags and go.
We are tackling Brexit through diversification. Being reliant on one revenue stream in times of uncertainty is something that can catch business out.
For us, launching a sister construction company has allowed us to stay agile and respond to the needs of our clients. Brexit will inevitably bring uncertainty and if one source of revenue slows down, hopefully we can use the opportunity to complement the other side of the company, maintain our workforce and seize chances as they arise.
Leo Finnett, digital marketing and administrator at South East Timber & Damp, Tenterden
For a small company such as ourselves, uncertainty causes hesitance in spending on home improvements unless absolutely necessary, leading to less work booked into our diary, causing cashflow issues.
Yet there is one thing that ought to be made clear and certain: the preservation and guarantee of workers’ rights.
This will ensure you have motivated staff who can help you take on any challenges Brexit throws at you. Businesses have a moral duty to uphold and guarantee these rights post-Brexit because core workers’ rights – previously protected by EU legislation – will be left vulnerable to political whims.
Ricky Hemmings, managing director at Ardula, Maidstone
As an employer of 50 HGV drivers in the construction haulage sector, my biggest post-Brexit concern is driver recruitment and retention. Myself and my team are collaborating on offering new and existing drivers employment packages which encourage long-term stability, so that as Brexit approaches, our workforce feels settled and inclined to stay. I’m looking to implement incentives now which will reward long service. By focusing on attendance and wellbeing, we will make the company one where driving roles are coveted among the HGV driver community.
For us the key issue is the supply of skilled workers post-Brexit so we’re taking positive action now. We’ve just appointed a training and apprenticeship manager and we’re discussing a partnership arrangement with a group of colleges to develop new, approved hands-on training courses.
We aim to enthuse British youngsters and open their eyes to the earnings opportunities and career possibilities in the modern construction industry, and overcome the challenges of a skills shortage in this country.
Mark Quinn, managing director of Quinn Estates, Canterbury
Be confident and ambitious in what you do. Seek opportunities and grab them. Look ahead and not to the past. Success is always around the corner. Don’t talk yourself into a recession or that Brexit is a disaster. See it as an opportunity. Review what you are doing and horizon scan. Planning ahead has never been more important. Assess your team and your structure – the right skill in the right place for the right conditions. Don’t overthink it. The world will continue to turn. Just be organised, have a plan and go for it. Look at your costs, make sure you’re spending in the right areas. Look at your supply chain and running costs and how that might be affected by Brexit – from materials costs to labour, commercial rents to professional fees.
Brexit is just one factor that might affect decision-making by clients and investors, or it might be a convenient excuse for a change of mind. We monitor inquiry levels and orders, trying to judge whether the ebbs and flows are short-term fluctuations or the start of a change in the market. The question presumes Brexit is a threat – it might have the opposite effect and lead to greater investment because of an emboldened population with a sense of liberation and confidence. We will keep reading the tea leaves and respond stridently to whatever is thrown at us.
Dan Corpe, director of Corpe Consulting, Maidstone
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of a negative mindset and blame all and any of your problems on Brexit.
It can become a self-fulfilling prophesy and you may miss opportunities for improvement. My advice is don’t believe the hype, keep forging your own way forwards, with a positive mindset and you’ll find success.
Another key thing is staff. Colleagues are the engine of your business and leading them in the right way is critical in the smooth running and power output of this engine. Leaders should create an environment where people are fulfilled at work and you’ll see improvements across all measures.
Mary Henson, chief executive of Agile Business Consortium, Ashford
You need to be more flexible and work in an agile way.
That means being a more collaborative organisation so you’re ready for all the things Brexit is going to throw at you.
If you want to develop something in an organisation, those working in an agile way make sure they get all their stakeholders involved from the outset and throughout the project. They see the solution being developed and give feedback. You have transparency and good communication. You’re going to be able to respond to an opportunity in a more efficient and faster way, which will be profitable for your organisation.
It would seem that nobody anywhere has yet a definitive concept of what the business environment will be like post-Brexit. How we lesser mortals are to predict it is something of a conundrum.
Firstly I would say to everyone that the fundamentals need to be strengthened in your planning. Know precisely your product definition in terms of buyer benefits.
Carefully profile your buyers and mesh the two together. Secondly closely scrutinise your business operations, understand precisely where the profit lies and analyse carefully the costs to achieve it.
Roger Williams, director of Intelligent Linking Consulting, Maidstone
There is so much fake information surrounding Brexit that businesses have to focus on certainties. If you’re mad for Brexit or denying it’s going to happen, you are in trouble. If you think you are unaffected by it, then head back to the path of delusion.
The economy is interconnected. No-one will be untouched but if you are certain that your customers love you, your products and your services, then you are on a positive survival path to confront the uncertainties ahead. As you deal with these uncertainties, simply and realistically, you might even be a Brexit winner.
Spend some time visiting your top clients – those who command up to 80% of your revenue – and ask them about their concerns on Brexit. Reassure them of plans to supply their product or service needs, whatever the outcome.
Lock them into longer supply agreements if possible.
Tell them about new developments and new innovations coming on stream. Make the story compelling so they would find it very hard to move suppliers regardless of the outcome of future negotiations with the EU.
The creative industries are the fastest-growing part of the UK economy. They contribute almost £90 billion net to UK GDP. Creatively, the UK already has a worldwide presence. Therefore, we need to take on the rallying call that Britain is open for business. Digital companies, fashion designers, TV and film makers and the cultural sector more generally, should be seen as a positive voice during the Brexit process.
If we keep telling the world that we continue to be creative, regardless of Brexit, it will drive more business to our shores.
Paul Jackson, chief executive of Dovetail Games, Chatham
Brexit is a huge challenge and a huge opportunity. The fall in sterling has transformed Dovetail Games because we export over 70% of everything we make. I have always admired those German companies that produce and export things making their economy so powerful. Trying to recreate that with Dovetail seemed just outside my grasp. Now, exporting competitively, I think we can do it. The energy I see around me from producers and exporters is incredible. As a country we must export more, import less. That will take time, but surely we are strong enough to meet the challenge.
There are way more important things business owners need to think about than Brexit. They should be thinking about internal factors that they have control over. How are they improving the way they reach, communicate, build and maintain relationships with their customers in line with the shift in the way they consume information and communicate? Far too many businesses are marketing themselves like it’s 2007.
Stop worrying about Brexit, start marketing like it’s 2017.
Gareth Mann, managing director of Digital Contact, Strood
No matter how you feel about Brexit, there’s only one approach to take. Display the classic British behaviour, the stiff upper lip. Staying calm and looking through the hysteria surrounding Brexit is crucial when there is such a lack of clarity about what it means for businesses.
Things are changing fast, so keeping one step ahead of the latest market movements is crucial. One way to do this is by using tools such as Trading.co.uk, designed to help ‘Brexit-proof’ businesses by giving owners the power to mitigate risk and spot opportunities without information overload from the millions of articles published on Brexit each day.
There is no way to predict the full impact of Brexit and what it will do to different sectors.
My view is to remain agile to change.
For us, this is done through good internal communications, simple processes and efficient cloud-based systems. We feel that this approach will allow us to move faster than anyone else to any change that comes.
Emma Andrews, partner at McCabe Ford Williams, Maidstone
It is vital to treat farming as a business and for farmers to be ready to tackle the Brexit issues as they arise. We believe that diversification is key. Wise farmers are planning and considering how they can replace a potential loss of subsidies or export trade to Europe, with other streams of more ‘non-traditional’ income. Diversification can range from changing the type of livestock that is farmed, for example, from cattle or sheep to goats, or by using the available land in a different way, for example, creating a pick-your-own farm or a glamping site.
Duncan Cochrane-Dyet, partner at MacIntyre Hudson, Canterbury
It’s still about the cash. Brexit does not change business basics. Model the scenarios as a cashflow forecast and revisit this regularly as the shape of Brexit emerges. Lending may tighten, so be clear on what funding your business will need and where it’s coming from. It’s about the quality of your relationships – customers and suppliers, of course, but also other stakeholders such as employees and lenders. Customs duty and taxes may change your trading processes and margins, so might put constraints on non-UK EU nationals, and all parties need to be clear on how this will happen. Dialogue, communication, and trust are absolutely critical.
Geoff Collis, partner at Wilkins Kennedy, Ashford
Every business needs a plan. This has never been more important as we transition through the Brexit process. A plan that considers the different ‘what if’ scenarios that may have a direct impact on your business. The plan should consider your people, operations (including customers and suppliers), finance, marketing and agreements. If you are an importer or exporter you might take a closer look at AEO (Authorised Economic Operator) status.
Andrew Golding, chief executive of OneSavings Bank and Kent Reliance, Chatham
The Brexit debate is fuelled by rumour, posturing and hyperbole. What Brexit will look like in the end is anyone’s guess. In these circumstances, you need to focus on the basics that underpin the best businesses.
You should have a clear business strategy and foster a positive culture for your employees – then they’ll look after your customers for you. Customers who trust you will stay with you, regardless of what’s going on politically. You may not have all the answers but at the very least you’ll be showing your customers that you’re in it together.
Businesses need to prepare by ensuring they understand any changes in legislation and regulation well in advance.
The construction industry’s already facing a skills shortfall crisis, a potential drop of 25% over the coming decade, with London and the South East likely to feel the crunch first. There’s no “magic bullet” solution, with technology, education and innovation all having parts to play.
There are six things you can do to reduce the uncertainty of Brexit.
1. Buy British because the more you buy from other UK businesses the less you will be exposed to duty and exchange costs.
2. You should export because our goods and services are much more competitive aboard with the weak pound.
3. You should invest now while interest rates are low.
4. If you have clients abroad, why not establish a branch in their jurisdiction to reduce the cost of cross border transfers of goods or people.
5. Lobby government, trade groups and MPs to make sure they know the issues you face and get them factored into any EU negotiations.
6. Finally, don’t panic. After all, the UK is still one of the largest economies in the world.
Jamie Smith-Thompson, managing director at Portafina, Strood
Buy British would be my first thought, given the way the pound has gone. All the time we have access to markets then obviously a weak pound is great if you are exporting, and not so great if you rely on imported goods and materials. Then I would say keep your eyes and ears wide open. Any time of turmoil and change is going to be full of opportunities for those who are flexible and fast enough to be able to take advantage of them.
Simon Warne, partner at Crowe Clark Whitehill, Maidstone
Brexit represents the most radical change to our terms of trade in peacetime. The risk areas are considerable and include loss of market access, supply-chain breaks, tariffs, new regulatory hurdles, staff losses (particularly in agriculture and hospitality) and devaluation risk. Kent firms must ‘stress test’ their business model and look ahead. The shape of Brexit is in a state of flux and the outcome will be determined by a range of players whose positions are not finalised. Business needs to find a way to work out what might be coming and seek to influence the outcome. Brexit winners will be those that take a positive view and look for innovative solutions to the issues that arise.
Phil Acock, managing director of Fourayes Farm, Sittingbourne
You’ll have heard, I’m sure, that Brexit will create ‘winners and losers’. Our strategy is to make sure Fourayes is a winner.
That started with an analysis of the challenges Brexit will bring to our existing supply model and, very importantly, an analysis of the issues Brexit will cause for similar companies on the European mainland. This is after the potential imposition of trade tariffs and bearing in mind the long-term impact of exchange rates. We’ve invested in capabilities that allow us to take advantage of the new market opportunities – predominantly focused on product displacement for UK customers and price-advantaged products for European companies.
Richard Balfour-Lynn, producer at Hush Heath Estate, Staplehurst
I believe the key to making your business Brexit proof is to plan over a five-year period how you are going to alter the way you do business. Specifically where you buy goods and where you sell.
We now focus on export markets outside the EU looking at USA, Canada, and Japan. The fall in sterling has helped considerably. In terms of buying we are investigating what British manufacturers can provide, even if we have to pay slightly higher prices.
Sian Holt, managing director of Fudge Kitchen, Lyminge
It is hard to plan and guard yourself against something that is essentially entirely unknown.
To date our issues have largely been caused by the drop in the value of sterling and the dramatic impact on the cost of some of our raw ingredients and packaging. It has prompted us to explore export opportunities with more gusto whilst the exchange rate makes our UK pricing favourable to overseas buyers.
Whilst the government still has no concrete answers and is essentially ‘fudging the issue’ we are choosing to carry on as usual and work around the hazards and challenges as they present themselves.
The best advice is to plan for the worst but prepare for the best. The worst situation would be high tariffs and long customs checks. Don’t assume there will be any less business regulation post-Brexit. The best case would be access to global trade opportunities for UK food and agriculture. Maintaining our current high standards are vital to export success. Don’t surrender these. If you qualify, access the remaining EU grants. Lobby your relevant MP, your Brexit working group and small business support organisations such as FSB and Chamber of Trade for answers and policies you want.
Bob Russell, co-founder of Copper Rivet Distillery, Chatham
We always seek to source locally from other Kent businesses, which we think will insulate us from future volatility of exchange rates and whatever future tariff and customs arrangements might be imposed.
We believe it is vital to invest in whatever is relevant technology, as this is key to performance and remaining competitive. We’re quickly building our presence in the fantastic local bars, gastropubs and restaurants all over Kent and London, but we’ll also seek to broaden our horizons and proudly take our amazing Kentish spirits with all the heritage of Chatham Dockyard’s skill and craft to the rest of the country and to overseas markets.
Paul Abdey, associate in commercial litigation at Brachers, Maidstone
It is more important than ever to make sure your business’ cashflow is robust enough to deal with the uncertainty facing UK plc. Cashflow is the life blood of any business so getting effective credit control and debt collection in place is key if the company is to prosper and grow. A critical point to appreciate is that credit control starts from before a sale is agreed. The most important piece of information is who your client actually is, for example a limited company, a partnership or an individual. Without this information, recovering payment will be extremely difficult and will only lead to extra costs to establish who has formal responsibility for the amount owed.
Given up on Brexit? Well who would blame you?
How are you supposed to plan for the future of your business when you don’t know what the ground rules will be? My strong advice is to keep it simple. Look at your supply chain – your suppliers, your people, your customers – and make sure your relationships with them, legal and otherwise, are as secure as you can make them. Make sure your contracts allow you sufficient flexibility to make changes as issues arise, whether they relate to tariffs, exchange rates or regulations, and make those changes whenever you can.
Also, don’t panic while uncertainty continues. It will be like this for a while.
Jonathan Gauton, chief executive of Outset Group, Maidstone
The only certainty about Brexit is uncertainty and that is set continue for many years, well beyond exit. To handle it you have to build flexibility and resilience into the way your business operates, its finances and your workforce culture.
This will help you adapt to changing and inconsistent landscapes. Prepare contingency plans now for likely outcomes. This will force you to understand and prepare for the most likely implications for your business. It will improve readiness. Without flexibility, resilience and planning you will be taking on unnecessary personal stress and massive unnecessary risk.
The most important strategic mindset to have in the face of uncertainty is agility. Being agile is not as straightforward as it may seem on the surface because it relies on understanding, intelligence and resources to be effective. Understanding your business, its strengths and weaknesses, is the starting point to risk assess potential impacts. Build on this with informed and timely intelligence: professional advisers and trusted sources will advise on likely impacts and mitigation.
Agility is merely aspirational without the appropriate resources – people and money.
By operating facilities across three continents, with clients worldwide, we are less susceptible to the ups and downs of one particular economy. We have leveraged the weak sterling to make us more competitive, thus allowing us to accelerate orders from the US and China.
While many British businesses export their manufacturing to China, ITL Group differ by offering design services in the UK and manufacturing near local markets. This dynamic business model is attracting global pharmaceutical organisations that are keen to get involved with medical diagnostics.
The process of Brexit is now the job of UK government. As this process rolls out the business community should vocalise what we believe our economy should look like and how we can compete globally.
Being ‘heard’ is an action for ‘Brexit proofing’. Innovation is also an imperative for Kent businesses. Strong research and development programmes for all sectors could help keep our local economy ahead of the curve.
Marcus Chrysostomou, former IoD Kent ambassador and ex-Kent County Council communications chief
It is becoming more competitive as many businesses are holding back or reducing spend on marketing and PR due to uncertainty. I would advise businesses to consolidate and add value to current clients, target niche areas and work more in partnership with other creative businesses to offer a more rounded service. This means they are better positioned when things calm down.
Anwen Cooper, director of Get Fruitful Marketing, Maidstone
It is more important than ever to set a clear vision for your business. Map out a plan to get you where you want to be while staying true to your core values. Be prepared to adapt your tactics as the world around you changes, but always stay true to your overall mission. Brexit will affect different businesses in different ways depending on their supply chain, workforce and markets. Those sourcing labour or parts and selling to the EU will of course be impacted more directly. However, there will be knock-on effects to us all in various ways, many of which we can’t even predict right now. Keep your eye on the news and engage in debate to stay in the loop as the situation develops.
Brexit is a time of unknown. Uncertainty breeds uncertainty and that’s our greatest challenge to overcome.
Stay focussed on your current clients, apply a good percentage of your efforts to ensuring you’re meeting their needs and expectations. Do not cut back. Communicate with and market to your core clients frequently, gain an understanding of what their needs are too during Brexit. Armed with knowledge and understanding you can help them seek market opportunities and provide them with added support. This is also a time of opportunity. Keep a close eye on your market because by carrying out a competitor or market analysis you will understand your rivals, discover possible alliances and explore trends, gaps and opportunities.
Amy McManus, managing director of AM Marketing, Canterbury
How do you prepare your business for the unknown? If there’s one thing that Brexit has taught us, it’s that no one knows what’s going to happen, not even the experts. So, to give your business the best chance of survival: prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Focus on ensuring your business is flexible and can react quickly to new opportunities. We have taken on more accounts outside of the EU with clients in Canada, USA and Asia. We have also added new services, expertise and training to the team so we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket.
For the majority of businesses Brexit is going to require doing what they do now, but even better. It will demand a greater focus on retaining the clients they’ve already got and targeting and securing new ones. This will require attention to detail, marketing and a compelling sales pitch. Businesses will need to operate even more efficiently, offer value for money and keep an eagle eye on the bank balance, while at the same time keeping their staff motivated.
Keep a pragmatic eye on the property market, always remembering it is a good and proven long-term investment – but not a quick-fix money tree.
Caxtons grew steadily during the lean years of the recession because it was flexible and nimble in its day-to-day practices.
Generally, our advice is not to over extend, to have a healthy and permanent cash reserve and keep an eye on changes in legislation as control returns to the UK. We never assume that another property crash is impossible. It’s happened before and could happen again so be sensitive to what is happening in your wider sector and keep abreast of current news and rumours. Rule nothing out, rule nothing in.
Brexit will potentially offer opportunities for those who can react quickly and adapt positively to the new business environment.
It is essential that we keep abreast of the news and changes relevant to our own businesses and industries, to understand what the contingencies should be and to be ahead of the curve with scenario planning. Make sure you don’t focus so much attention on protecting your business that you miss out on potential opportunities that Brexit might offer. Have a look at some successful businesses in countries outside of the EU similar to yours and try to see how they’ve taken advantage of their position as a country outside the single market.
Jack Parkinson, chairman at HR GO plc, Ashford
If Brexit leads to a predicted fall in EU workers coming to the UK, replacing them with local people when we have almost full employment will be a challenge.
Competitive salaries and flexibility will be essential to attract new employees and retain existing ones. If the skills you need are not readily available, then I always say hire for attitude and train for skills. Work with your recruitment specialist to identify the qualities you ideally need and let them find the right people. And maybe look further afield.
Stephen Rogers, managing director of Swanstaff Recruitment, Dartford
Look at businesses in countries who don’t rely on the single market. You can assess how they operate and create scenarios for your own business based on your findings.
You can also produce models of how your business may look outside of the single market. It is important to plan out the worst case scenarios and identify the potential impact of these on your own business. This is the only way you can ensure you have solutions ready and waiting for when we have a clearer idea of what Brexit will actually mean. These planning tasks will also enable you to discover new opportunities that Brexit can offer – and put you ahead of competitors in the longer term.
Michele Harriman-Smith, chief executive of Childrensalon, Tunbridge Wells
Ensure your team members are happy and engaged as recruiting will become more difficult with the labour market tightening after Brexit. Having a strong training program will be important as promoting from within is easier and always better than recruiting externally.
Ensure you develop alternative business strategies in alignment with hard vs soft Brexit. If you’re trading internationally focus your attention on non-EU territories and designate resources to follow closely the cabinet’s non-EU trade discussions. Also, prepare financially for the pound weakening.
Kristina Boulden, director of Romney Marsh Wools, Aldington
Consumers are crying out for provenance and traceability of where their goods come from. They also want to know they were made ethically. The UK has traditionally always been renowned for its highly-skilled manufacturing and high-end quality. Many countries specifically seek UK made products and this trend is ever growing. Capitalise on that.
Giedre Brandao, managing director of AbBaltis, Sittingbourne
Brexit or not, there will always be changes in the market and the good news is that we have some time to prepare for leaving the EU, even if we are not quite sure what the final deal will be between the UK and EU. Set up an emergency fund. The aim is to have three to six months of cash to cover overheads. There is still time to build it, if you have not already.
Also focus on building an A-level team. Hire the best and invest in training them. Cut unnecessary expenses and review your value proposition to your customers. Why are they buying from you? What is it that your business does well and how can you capitalise on this?
Robert Woods, managing director of HP Technology, Ashford
Being able to respond quickly to the challenges and opportunities that Brexit will bring will be key. It is therefore essential businesses move cloudwards, benefitting from business continuity systems and cyber security which requires a robust internet connection.
By moving a company’s IT to the cloud offers cost-savings plus the flexibility to work from anywhere as we get closer to Brexit.