Collaboration

Consultant meets challenges of building a business abroad

One American consultant had the opportunity to open a new consultancy in Ireland. Here, he relates his eye-opening experiences getting the business and the office up and running.


As I described in the first part of my two-part series on establishing a new consultancy in Ireland, I had to deal with a multitude of administrative tasks and issues before even opening the doors.

The initial plan—to establish a home office—was quickly scrapped when it became clear that Ireland’s work and professional culture requires a separate location for people to meet and talk. This presented a challenge to our budget and operating expectations that neither my employer nor I had anticipated. Real estate is not only much more expensive in Ireland than in the United States, but the quality of space is different, as well.

It was just the first of several office challenges we had to work through.

Office space design issues
The real estate difference we encountered was primarily a U.S. perception of what office space should be, and what it is in Ireland. In the United States, a building is considered old if it was built 20 years ago. In Dublin, buildings that are 100 years old are often used for office space. This obviously requires the redesigning of office space to fit the available area.

Most buildings in Ireland are built out of concrete or stone, not lumber. Ireland doesn't have a large supply of lumber, and concrete is the easiest building material to obtain. However, a concrete structure is difficult to modify.

For example, to run cabling or to install phone lines, you need a jackhammer to drill holes. Cables and phone lines are often run through pipes along the inside of the building. This is not to say that office space is unappealing; in fact, the offices are usually very beautifully built. The difference is that you can’t just move a wall or run cables in the ceiling.

Initially, I placed bids on multiple office spaces in the Malahide area of Dublin, a small village, because it had easy train and bus access to downtown and was within my budget of $1,000 to $1,500 a month.

After further investigation, I found an office complex that was located just outside Malahide in Kinsealy. This area was similar to what we would call an industrial park. A book distributor had unused office space on the second floor that was twice the size of what I had seen in downtown Malahide. In exchange for painting, the rent would be $900 a month; not bad for two offices and space for expansion.

The furnishing effort
Office furniture was the next item on the agenda, and my landlord proved to be an excellent resource. He suggested several good stores to visit.

These were places similar to Office Depot where you can order by phone or via the Internet and have items delivered overnight. The cost for two desks and chairs was very reasonable. My office chairs and couches came from an auction house that my landlord told me about. At the auction, I purchased brand-new couches and chairs for under $200, along with lamps and pictures.

Setting up utilities
The next items were a phone system and a good Internet connection. DSL wasn't available at this point, and Internet connection was on a pay-as-you go basis.

For example, if you used dial-up, you were charged for every minute of connection time. My only option was ISDN. That gave me two phone lines and one data line.

I placed the order and then learned a lesson about doing business in another country. According to the phone company, which is government-owned, the lines would take five to 10 days to install. A month later, I still had no ISDN, although I did have a phone line. This meant using a dial-up to browse the Internet and having to disconnect to use the phone.

I told my landlord and he came to the rescue. He met up with the phone installers in the pub that night and, after a pint or two, asked them if they could work in my ISDN connection in the next few days. The next morning, the ISDN was installed and my phones were working. I found out later that a 90-day wait before phones were installed wasn’t unheard of. Apparently, you just have to know who to ask and how.

The installation work
I purchased the phone system from the phone company, and it was very easy to install. It cost less than $300 for the main switch and one additional unit and had the capacity to add up to five more lines.

But things didn’t go as smoothly with the cabling work. The building was concrete, and I didn’t know how to run the cables. So I asked a company that shared a suite in the same complex for help. The company actually specialized in running cables and doing networking, so I had it install my Ethernet cables. The company installed the cable lines in channels that were carved out of the concrete walls. This cost only $200. The money was very well spent; the work they did in just a few hours would have taken me days.

Because I have a strong enough technical background, I was then able to set up the network on my own. I set up the router and phone system, connected a computer that I had been using at home, and connected my laptop. I was ready for business.

Data gathering
My next business task was gathering data about potential clients and businesses in the area. While I had done some preliminary exploration before the actual move, I set out to hook up with about 20 companies I had determined were in need of consultants or programmers, and spent an entire week building my contact database because I needed to expand this potential client network.

Since I was a small business, for contact tracking, I used ACT 2000 as a contact manager. I also bought the European version that allowed me to enter addresses in the European format—they don’t use Zip codes in Ireland; instead, they use mail zones.

I used the following Web sites to start my data gathering:
  • Golden Pages: Similar to the U.S. yellow pages.
  • The Irish Times: This houses a job site, and you can find all of the companies advertising jobs. The contact e-mail address is provided along with the contact name.
  • Monster.com: Monster had just set up a new office in Ireland when I arrived, and it served as a great source of information.
  • RecruitIreland: This resource is great for getting company information.

I spent that first week browsing sites and gathering company information to enter into my ACT database. My company selection criteria were very simple: I researched the companies that had the most listings on these sites and found main phone numbers through the Golden Pages.

I then called each one and asked to speak with an HR person to get contact information. Depending on who answered the phone, most companies were very eager to provide job orders and to help.

Getting job orders, recruitment started
By the end of the week, I had pulled together data on 300 companies that were advertising heavily. It was then time to start making calls. In consulting and recruiting, job orders are the lifeblood. After calling 50 target companies, I quickly accumulated 50 job orders. The problem wasn’t demand, I learned, it was supply—there was a labor shortage in the tech area.

This put me in position to begin the recruiting process, and I placed ads on the previously mentioned sites. In the ads, I indicated that we were a new business to Ireland and needed some candidates.

The payoff was good. The ad in the Irish Times cost me $150 for one month, and I received a few hundred responses. This, essentially, launched the business.

Just to be sure my costs would be covered in the early months, I decided to supplement my revenue with personal instruction and began teaching IBM basic programming courses. I taught the class for two to three days every week or so. This provided me with a steady income stream and still allowed time to get the placement business up and running.

Getting a local Web site up
Once I had jobs and candidates to work with, I focused on developing the company Web site. As I mentioned in the first article, registering a business in Ireland as a corporation allows a company to have a site with the .ie suffix. This can only be used for Irish-registered companies.

It cost $50 a month to get the site up and hosted. This was for a very basic site that only had our company information and jobs we were trying to fill. The important aspect was that the .ie suffix made the company legitimate for the Irish market and also provided another avenue for advertising and recruiting that was very cost-effective.

Interviewing for an assistant
Up until this point, my spouse had been doing a great deal of the administrative work, and I realized it was time to interview for an assistant. Initially, I had planned on getting the office producing and then hand the office operations over to an assistant anyway, and now my interests had also changed. I wanted to instruct full-time and not deal with office issues.

I ran an advertisement and interviewed three or four quality applicants. The corporate office made the final decision, and I then officially became the company’s first official consultant and helped transition the office work to the new person. This took two to three weeks and was very successful.

Valuable lessons learned
The entire relocation and new business process has proven invaluable. It was an eye-opening experience on how different things can be outside the United States. It also helped me develop the necessary steps to open any office, no matter where I might be located.

The most important lesson I learned was to be patient and tolerant of the way things are done in other parts of the world. I was lucky in that I never met a rude Irishman. Everyone was very courteous and pleasant to work with.

 

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