Remote yet more in touch

On being based abroad, Mark Pinder finds it’s not what you know, but who you sit next to on aeroplanes.

On being based abroad, Mark Pinder finds it’s not what you know, but who you sit next to on aeroplanes

Two designers interested in starting their own business wrote to me asking if I could give them any advice, especially on remote working and finding new business.

These days, remote working has become much easier and, for certain roles, such as new business, it can even be an advantage to be constantly travelling and out of the office.

With low-cost airlines ever increasing their number of destinations, broadband telephone such as Skype and video conferencing, there are now fewer and fewer reasons for the daily commute.

I live in the south of France and, on average, spend eight days a month in my office in London Docklands. The rest of the time I am out meeting clients, looking for new clients or working from home. I love London, but, having commuted for the past ten years on the cramped trains, the thought of being able to eat breakfast on the veranda by the swimming pool became too much to resist.

Over the years I have found working remotely has even helped in finding new business. A little while ago, I was flying home and was seated next to a senior director of Shell International returning from a conference. We found that, with both of us having a London office and living abroad, we had a lot in common. We exchanged business cards and have been friends ever since. While skiing, I literally bumped into the executive vice-president of strategy for Airbus Industry. Brand Frontier now advises a leading Italian fashion brand on its strategy having met the chief executive officer while I was playing tennis. So my advice on finding new business is to get out of the office more.

The move has changed the way we do business and, more importantly, where we do that business. Seventy per cent of Brand Frontier’s business now comes from France, Switzerland and Italy, and we are constantly busy promoting British design abroad.

Many established consultancies, however, still believe that if employees are not working in the office, they are not working at all. It is a question of trust – if an employee is motivated, aptly rewarded and knows what is expected of them, then it’s up to them to deliver, whether in the office or not.

People also ask me if it is really possible to manage a company and guide its direction if I am not always in the office. I believe, again, it is all about trust and the importance of employing the right managing director and management team. It is all about putting the right people together, very much in the same way as creating a band of musicians – the difference between having the right people and the wrong people is the difference between success and failure.

At Brand Frontier, every few months we review our business plan and agree our objectives and targets. I am very lucky in that we have an excellent team of people who form our management, all of whom have the same aims and whom I trust to implement these in my absence.

I may not be the finest managing director, new business manager, finance director, creative director, designer or account manager in the land, but my job, and that of my co-founder, is to find and employ those who are, and then give them the space and support so they can use their experience to take the firm to higher levels of achievement.

It is important to get this structure right, as it allows the founding partners the space and time to concentrate on ways of growing the company, improving its offer and not get bogged down in the day-to-day running of the office.

This approach also makes the company safer in the long term and more attractive to investors, as it is not dependent on any one individual. It allows for new partners to join the board and others to retire or leave in the same way as with a doctor’s practice or law firm.

Many who start a company talk of their exit strategy from day one and how they plan to sell the company. If all they are doing it for is the money, then possibly a career in financial services would be a smarter move. But, if they love design and the sense of satisfaction it brings, then it’s vital to get the lifestyle balance right.

Mark Pinder lives in France and is co-founder of Brand Frontier in London

How to ensure carefree remote working

Kit – get the right equipment, including phones, broadband and video conferencing

Mobile phones – you can buy ‘passport services’ from networks like Vodafone, where you pay local rates for international calls

Travel – live close to airports and use city rather than remote ones. EasyJet and Ryanair allow bookings six months in advance. Two-hour flights are manageable, but anything more is tough

Two of everything – a car in each airport, a flat in each country

Tax efficiency – it is cheaper to bill from the UK than France and Germany, and cheaper again in Belgium

Resources – check for tips on moving abroad. UKTI can also subsidise things like language lessons

Banking – UK banks are very helpful for people setting up businesses and often have overseas branches

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