Tips and tricks for expanding into new Asian markets

6:25AM | Tuesday, 17 June

With so much talk about the ‘Asian century’, any start-up with big ambitions should think about being ‘Asia-capable’. Australian exports to Asia are almost triple the value of exports to the rest of the world, with huge potential to grow further. But where do you start?   Having spent time managing businesses across the Asia-Pacific, I can safely say that before you look to enter a different market, you need to know exactly what you want to achieve. All the different markets of Asia have their own attractions.   Hong Kong is a gateway to Greater China, and is regularly among the leading markets in the world in ‘ease of doing business’ surveys.   Singapore often tops those same surveys. With its excellent infrastructure and telecoms, reassuring legal environment, and English-speaking population, many companies use it as a regional base to cover other Asian markets.   Yet business-friendliness also creates drawbacks: Singapore and Hong Kong are competitive – even saturated – markets, and business costs such as premises and wages can be high.   Indonesia, the Philippines and India are up-and-coming economic powerhouses, with lower business costs, and vast opportunities in sectors from infrastructure to services. Moreover, Indonesia is Australia’s closest neighbour in south-east Asia. But their regulatory and business environments are not always easy to navigate, and you will probably need a helping hand from local partners and providers.   With all those markets – developing or emerging – there are ways to increase your chances of success.   1. Be prepared to customise   Asian consumers value localised products, so you must be willing to adapt products and services to individual markets. Local market research is essential.   2. You need inside knowledge   Hire or partner with people with strong local experience, contacts and language skills. Forming business relationships in south-east Asia is a slow-burning process – you’ll need to visit these markets regularly.   3. Leverage existing networks   From Austrade and local trade bodies like InvestHK or Singapore’s Enterprise Development Board, there is a wealth of support already in most Asian countries. These organisations can offer market advice, introductions to local contacts and recommendations for professional services such as lawyers and accountants, and also help you navigate bureaucracy and business etiquette.   This will help you enter a market more quickly, prevent mistakes and free up management time. For example, SMEs that use Regus’ extensive network of business centres across south-east Asia save themselves the expense and stress of finding and leasing an office and dealing with all the paperwork and legal contracts involved in that.   4. Stay flexible   The challenges of Asia – from consumer preferences to red tape to the length of time it takes to form strong business relationships – require you to be adaptable. You’ll need flexible arrangements for premises and staffing that will allow you to upscale, downsize or change plans, all the time keeping down expenses. Don’t commit yourself to inflexible long-term leases or other arrangements or high upfront costs.   Targeting south-east Asia is not a stroll in the park, but don’t be put off by the fact it’s not just an extension of home. There are amazing opportunities to increase revenues and customers and to become a player in the Asian century – even for a start-up.   Paul Migliorini is CEO, Australia and New Zealand, for global workplace provider Regus.

Working mums more valued by small business: Study

3:12AM | Friday, 28 March

Small businesses are more likely than large companies to hire and value working mothers, according to a new research.   The study, conducted by workspace provider Negus, found 52% of small businesses were planning on hiring working mums in comparison to 43% for larger companies.   Smaller businesses were also found to value working mothers more than large corporations. Seventy-four per cent of small companies said they valued working mothers, while 66% of large companies agreed with this.   Our HR Company managing director Margaret Harrison told SmartCompany she has noticed an increasing trend towards flexibility for working mothers in both small and larger companies. However, small business owners are often more flexible with staff due to the structure of their business.   “Smaller companies really value people who can be much more flexible,” she says. “You can work around people much more easily.”   Harrison says this is because in a small team, everyone is much more likely to know one another and empathise with their work-life situation.   “Everybody cares about your kids and it’s easy to get to know people,” she says. “And that always helps. I also don’t think there’s an entrenched maleness in smaller companies.”   Often small businesses need people to work part-time or on a casual contract, and Harrison says mothers who want to juggle a career with looking after their children are perfect for this.   “As a business owner myself I often need somebody who can work on a contractual basis. So there’s a fair amount of flexibility to accommodate working mothers.”   Harrison also points out small businesses are more likely to encourage mothers to come back to work after maternity leave because they value knowledge-retention. Small business owners are often time-poor, and it takes time to train someone who is coming into the business for the first time.   The Regus study found Sydney was the strongest market for mothers looking to return to work, followed closely by Melbourne and Brisbane.   Meghann Ashby, sales and marketing director at Regus, said in a statement it is time for Australian companies to adapt their business practices to better suit working mothers.   “Businesses need to embrace mothers returning to work,” she said. “The evidence is clear that they bring key skills to the workplace.”   The Negus research defined small businesses as those with less than 49 employees and large businesses as having more than 250.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Getting infrastructure right: How can startups build a scalable operational model?

3:54AM | Friday, 28 March

Growth can be a mixed blessing for startups. It’s great to have new customers knocking at the door, but only if your cost base and cash flow are up to the task of serving them. Otherwise, growth could actually be your downfall.   It’s therefore important for startups to build a scalable business model – i.e. where revenue growth can outstrip growth in costs.   Scalability is partly a question of what products you sell. But it’s also about having a scalable operational model: your sales, IT and workplace arrangements must permit growth with minimal upfront costs and delays. And, preferably, not require you to work 24/7. At Regus we’ve seen hundreds of our SME customers scale up their businesses in Australia, and here are a few of the lessons we’ve learnt from them over the years.   Sales   Sales arrangements that rely on the contacts and skills of a key individual can only take you so far. Instead, you need to develop sales processes as well as talent. For example,   Use CRM software to track sales activity and share information with colleagues.   Make sure no information goes to waste. Social media, website analytics and sales data are invaluable for tracking interest and conversion rates, helping you target marketing activity more efficiently.   Develop training materials to help new sales staff generate revenues more quickly.   Think differently. For example, Australian software giant Atlassian used transparent pricing on its website – not something usually associated with enterprise software – to drive sales, rather than employing a large salesforce.   IT   The major difference between starting a business now and doing it a couple of decades ago is technology. Cloud applications, open source software and ready-made e-commerce templates have facilitated both starting up and scaling up.   There’s no need to invest in expensive software like CRM packages from day one – there are plenty of free or low-cost options available. But you do need to think about IT solutions from day one – don’t just launch a business and then try to patch on IT solutions afterwards.   Workplace   Traditional office arrangements and leases often lock small businesses into too-small premises and prevent them from expanding when they need to.   In contrast, flexible workplace arrangements provide scalability. They allow businesses to take on new space without upfront capital investment; they also allow them the flexibility to grow rapidly, or if growth falters, to contract.   In addition, the global network of a flexible workplace provider like Regus enables businesses to open virtual or physical offices wherever they see an opportunity for growth – without upfront investment or a fixed lease required.   HR   Finally, a scalable business must be able to hire exactly the talent it needs as soon as it needs it. But finding the right personality is just as important as finding the right skills. As small businesses rapidly grow, being able to maintain that company culture is essential to finding success. When Regus helped Google set up it’s first Portuguese office in one of our Lisbon centres, we sourced a foosball table and helped identify the right local providers to provide the renowned Google catering for their employees. In the US, Netflix allow employees to choose their own holidays, with no cap on how much leave people take.   These flexible HR practices, such as letting staff choose where they work can help attract the right talent for your organisation- while keeping them engaged.

Building a culture of trust: the key to flexible working

1:40AM | Thursday, 30 January

Businesses of all sizes benefit from flexible working- and increasingly for start-ups - are being ‘born agile’, with teams working across cities, countries and even continents.   But despite the proven advantages of flexi-work for small and giant companies alike, many business owners are unclear how to make it work in practice. It’s not just a matter of announcing the end of fixed hours at fixed locations, or telling your employees to work from home instead of at the office.   Here are a few practical tips to make flexible working a success. Most of them relate to one word: trust. And the great thing for start-ups is that it’s something you can follow from the outset. You don’t have to change people’s contracts or chip away at ingrained habits.   1. Who’s doing what, when?   In a global survey Regus conducted about remote working, 51% of Australian respondents said managers worry about how staff use their time.   Clear goal-setting is the answer. It helps managers gauge the output of staff even if they’re working elsewhere, and it helps staff demonstrate their achievements.   2. It’s good to talk   If you have a team working at different times or locations, communication is essential. Schedule regular conference calls, meetings, video conferences and social events whenever possible.   Don’t let a situation develop where employees who work at the same place as the boss receive news faster than those working from elsewhere. Those being left out of the loop will rapidly become resentful, and that’s half of your culture of trust gone down the drain.   3. Use the right tools   Around 38% of businesses in Australia use specific reporting and monitoring tools to facilitate remote management. But tools should be used to support workers, not just police them.   Explore the use of cloud-based applications so that staff can do their jobs anywhere.   And think out of the box when it comes to what tools you use. Teleworking is often criticised on the grounds that working at home is distracting and deprives people of professional facilities – so offer access to professional workspaces, such as business lounges, or co-working spaces.   4. Finally, don’t leave things to chance   Successful flexible working requires everyone to understand the rules. For example: when flexible/remote workers are expected to be available by phone/email, how and when they should report to managers and how ‘success’ or ‘failure’ is defined and measured.   Aspects like these should be covered in contracts and performance reviews. It all comes back to communication and goal-setting.

Tips for work-life balance over the summer holidays

12:34AM | Tuesday, 17 December

Almost half of Australian business people say they’ll be working over the summer holidays, beating the declining global average, a new survey released by office services firm Regus has revealed.   The figures show businesses with fewer employees were more likely to sacrifice their holiday time. Business people at firms with up to 49 employees said they would give up one to three hours a day over the holidays, 49% of the time.   As the business got larger, the number shrank; 34% of business people made the claim from businesses with between 50-249 employees.   A separate survey by Servcorp has concluded that 40% of Australian business owners will give more than 10 hours a week of personal time during the summer holidays to keep the business running.   More Australian businesspeople of both sexes said they would work longer over the holidays than the global average, according to the Regus survey of 26,000 people in 96 states.   It said 38% of businesswomen said they would work one to three hours a day over the break, with the global average at 35%, and 15% would work longer than three hours, with the global average at 16%.   Of businessmen, 46% said they would work one to three hours a day, the global average was 44%, and 14% said they would work more than three hours, while 18% across the globe agreed.   The combined statistics show 44% of Australian business people would put in one to three hours a day and 14% would put in longer hours, with the global averages at 41% and 17% respectively.   In 2012, 46% of Australians said they would work one to three hours a day over their breaks, two points shy of the global 2012 average of 48%.   Chief executive at The Physio Co, Tristan White, told SmartCompany businesspeople need down time to perform well when work is on.   He suggested to be clear with staff and clients about when you are available, and when you don’t want to be disturbed.   “I’m certainly not going to be checking emails all the time,” he said. “If there’s an emergency, make sure it’s communicated via the phone.”   Another pitfall of working during the holidays is that important contacts could be off as well, so productivity expectations would be lower.   “The expectations of [staff] getting a huge amount done are low for that very reason, that other people are on leave,” he said.   He said to make things more relaxed for those that are working over summer, his office support staff would have two weeks in casual clothes starting Thursday.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

What are the pros and cons of serviced offices?

5:57PM | Tuesday, 27 May

This article first appeared on July 24th, 2013.   Does your average start-up really need a formal office anymore? Doesn’t it make more sense to work from home, or on the move in places like coffee shops?   If you’re oblivious to distractions and incapable of being tempted away from work, the answer will be ‘I can be productive anywhere’. Good for you, but what follows is written with the other 99% of the human race in mind.   Many of us find there’s a discipline that comes from working in an office outside the home at least some of the time. Renting involves more responsibility, which explains why serviced offices rank with home working as a popular option. In fact, the two aren’t mutually exclusive: some start-ups use serviced centres when an uncompromisingly business-like atmosphere is vital.   The pros are straightforward. Your workspace is ready-to-go at a few hours’ notice. You choose the amount of space you want for as long as you want it. Smart furniture, reliable printers, scanners, photocopiers and telecoms are part of the package and, let’s face it, you’re going to get better quality than most of us could otherwise afford.   Support staff are on tap, so there’ll be no hanging about if anything needs fixing (or explaining). You get a kitchen too, which is handy as we all need somewhere to chat or idle away a few relaxing minutes. Everything goes on a single monthly bill.   Of course other people need to be happy with your choice of office too – your customers. A residential address may not project the right image, but a serviced base can provide an upmarket address, swish meeting rooms, video conferencing and – not least – polite and efficient people to answer the phones.   In the interest of disclosure, I should point out that Regus (I am the country manager of Regus Australia Management) is the biggest with over 1500 centres worldwide and 40 here in Australia. But there are various chains that provide serviced offices. These centres are often in suburban locations and at freeway interchanges as well as in city centres. People who use serviced offices say things like “it’s a more productive environment because it’s a more structured environment”.   So that’s the pros but what are the cons? Well, a serviced office naturally costs more than working from home, or hopping from coffee shop to park bench. It entails commuting and it will certainly feel far more like work (no typing in your pyjamas). So the decision is a very personal one.

Happy workers better for business, and business owners are the happiest of the lot: Research

7:41AM | Tuesday, 16 July

Work-life balance among Australian workers is waning but bosses and younger employees in small businesses are happiest, according to new research by flexible workplace services provider Regus.   The report also found Australian business owners were the happiest workers.   Jacqueline Lehmann, the country head of Regus Australia, says this wasn’t a surprise given the control entrepreneurs have over how they work.   “Business owners are slightly more satisfied with their work-life balance than employees are, which sends quite a strong message that when you’re more in control of how you organise work, you’ll probably do a better job and you’ll feel better about what you’re doing,” Lehmann says.   Small businesses had a higher rate of happy staff, the report says. Almost 70% of staff working in companies with fewer than 50 staff said they were enjoying work more this year, compared to almost 60% of those employed at larger businesses.   Lehmann says business owners could do more to increase flexibility and work-life balance, and that this would lead to bottom line and talent retention benefits.   “As a team, you should sit down together ask how can we organise our work so we are more productive for the organisation. Can we work smarter and have less stress?” Lehmann says.   She adds the pressure of a regular commute and having to fit family, fitness and extra interests into the gaps around a full-time job are significant, and that those who aren’t assertive in adjusting their work are more likely to move on.   The report found Australian baby boomers were less likely to report they were achieving more this year (63% compared to 81% last year).   “This finding was surprising to me,” Lehmann says.   “Even though the youngsters are working more, they still feel better about how they work. When we look at younger members of the workforce, they are looking for completely different things in a job, and they’re not the people who want a rigid schedule. They want to use new technology and have some say in how they organise their work. They are probably also a bit better equipped, and more assertive in demanding that.”   Globally, 60% of workers said they were working longer hours because they were still managing additional duties picked up during the global financial crisis. Fewer baby boomers (50%) were spending more time at work than Gen X and Gen Y (58%).   “My generation hasn’t known anything else until quite recently. No one ever asked us how much time we lost in the commute, and how stressful that balance was. Younger employees are a lot more outspoken. They want to have a say.”

77% of Aussie entrepreneurs would do it all again: Report

5:17AM | Wednesday, 22 May

Almost 80% of Australian entrepreneurs would start up again if given the chance, new research shows, despite almost as many citing lack of access to credit as their main challenge.   The research comes from flexible workplace provider Regus, which surveyed more than 26,000 business managers and owners in 90 countries, including small business owners in Australia.   A small business is defined by Regus as having zero to 49 employees.   The research reveals 77% of Australian entrepreneurs would start up again if given the chance, despite the fact that 75% cite lack of access to credit as their top challenge.   Accessing credit isn’t the only challenge Australian entrepreneurs face.   More than two thirds (67%) of the local entrepreneurs surveyed cite red tape as a top challenge, followed by lack of government support (56%) and current economic conditions (56%).   More than half (52%) of Australian entrepreneurs also cite market domination by large corporations as a serious hindrance.   According to Regus, the results highlight the nimble and flexible nature of Australian entrepreneurs.   “Who knows what state the economy would be in if entrepreneurs decided to play safe and downsize like a lot of their larger and arguably better resourced competitors,” says Jacqueline Lehmann, country head of Regus Australia.   “What I can say, from seeing a lot of entrepreneurs here who work with us, is I think this is a great testament to what we call the ‘Never say die’ attitude.”   According to Lehmann, Australian entrepreneurs are willing to deal with challenges in order to remain autonomous.   “It really seems that once someone has been exposed to really being in charge of their own success and their own destiny, that it is going to be pretty hard to go back to corporate life,” she says.   A separate study from Millennial Branding and oDesk shows people are indeed drawn to entrepreneurship because of the perceived freedom and autonomy.   Millennial Branding is a US-based research and management consulting firm while oDesk – also based in the United States – claims to be the world’s largest online workplace.   They commissioned independent research firm Genesis Research Associates to conduct a global survey of 3,193 people, all of whom are independent workers and active oDesk users.   The survey found 72% of those still in “regular” jobs would like to quit “and work only for myself at some point in the future”, with freedom cited as the top reason.   Almost 90% said they would prefer to choose when and where they work rather than being tied down to a corporate job.   According to oDesk chief executive Gary Swart, the results are not surprising because “no one today wants to be confined to a cubicle”.   Interestingly, almost 60% of the professionals surveyed already classify themselves as entrepreneurs.   According to 90% of the survey respondents, an entrepreneur is defined as someone who has a certain mindset.   When asked to identify aspects of this mindset, respondents said an entrepreneur is a “self-starter”, “risk-taker”, “visionary” and someone who “spots opportunity”.   Only 10% of respondents defined an entrepreneur as “someone who starts a company”.   Like the Regus research, this study shows entrepreneurship is challenging – 47% of those familiar with the term “entrepreneur” said there are downsides.   However, 53% said being an entrepreneur is “an entirely good thing”.   Meanwhile, 75% of all survey respondents said the benefits of being an entrepreneur outweigh the downsides, while 38% would recommend pursuing a “promising start-up opportunity” over a traditional university degree.

Five top reasons to start-up in 2013

3:32AM | Friday, 15 March

The start of the year often sees a surge in new business launches, as plans mulled over throughout the year, fermented over Christmas, come to fruition.

Are Aussie start-ups set for an export boom?

3:36AM | Friday, 15 March

Given the strength of the Australian dollar, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s not the ideal time for diving into export markets.

Five ways the business Grinch could strike this year

12:03AM | Monday, 10 December

Depending on your business, Christmas is a time of peak sales or it’s a quieter period, allowing you time to reflect on how 2012 has treated you.

Five key reasons why start-ups fail

11:35PM | Tuesday, 20 November

In a lively speech delivered last week, former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull covered everything from hard hats and fluoro vests to the embracing of “creative destruction” in his critique of Australia’s start-up scene.

Top 10 worries keeping Aussie start-ups awake at night

11:39PM | Wednesday, 7 November

Cash and marketing are the two biggest concerns for Australian start-ups, according to two separate pieces of research released today.

What should I be wary of in an office lease agreement?

3:07AM | Monday, 18 March

I’m about to sign a lease agreement for an office. Is there anything in the small print that I should particularly look out for?

Do we go for cost or convenience with our office location?

9:08AM | Monday, 24 September

I’m trying to select the best location for our office and am stuck between a city location that costs a fair amount of money and a perfectly nice space that would be tricky for people to get to. What should I do?

Workplace stress costing Aussie economy $730 million a year: Report

9:46AM | Thursday, 13 September

Employers are being encouraged to offer flexible working arrangements to reduce workplace stress, which is believed to be costing the Australian economy $730 million a year in lost productivity.

THE NEWS WRAP: Carbon tax floor price removal could mean cost savings for business

8:22PM | Tuesday, 28 August

The Federal Government has scrapped the carbon tax floor price, potentially saving Australian businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in costs.

Small firms beat larger rivals in work-life balance health: Report

3:03AM | Thursday, 21 March

Small businesses are more likely to have a healthy work-life balance than their larger counterparts, but 60% of employees are still working harder and longer hours than two years ago, a new report reveals.

Fears raised over cloud privacy restrictions

5:42AM | Tuesday, 15 May

New proposed laws that restrict the shift of data overseas could reduce the benefits of moving to the cloud, an expert has warned, despite research showing local firms view IT cloud applications as a key cost-saving measure.

Small firms lacking IT disaster plans: Report

3:09AM | Monday, 11 March

More than a third of Australian small businesses do not have a disaster recovery system to ensure IT systems are quickly reestablished, a new report reveals, compared to 16% of larger firms.