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By Yasmine Lingemann

Belgians are big savers. According to recent figures released by the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), Belgians have reached a record high in average household savings, with figures reaching 290 billion euros in aggregate regulated savings accounts. On average, the household savings ratio in Belgium is 12.6%, which by comparison is just over double that of the UK, where households save 6.2% of their disposable income. Belgians have traditionally saved a lot, yet even in an era of zero or negative interest rates on savings, the lack of spending is beginning to become problematic and even a hinderance to the national economy.

Globally, the Coronavirus pandemic has hurt economies everywhere. With firms in the UK and Europe also having to simultaneously adapt and create contingency plans to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition, businesses face the situation where they need to use alternative methods to attract clients and re-establish confidence in their company. In Belgium, that means trying to encourage people to spend more and save less at the same time as rising unemployment, weakening job security, and people generally tightening their belts and restricting spending to the bare necessities.

Despite this, firms must not lose hope: Now is the time to seek new opportunities. Businesses are responding, many are offering their goods and services in a different way. In Belgium, where consumers have traditionally been less open to online commerce, increased time at home in front of a screen enables households to be more susceptible to e-commerce and advertising. Businesses must use this time to improve communication and dialogue with their clients to reestablish trust and retain brand loyalty. Getting active online and keeping your customer base up to date on changes will help businesses in the long run and hasten the adoption of a more digitalised economy.

Belgium government support has not been as forthcoming as in the UK. However there are a variety of loans and tax deferral schemes that have been put in place to weaken the damage felt by Belgian firms.

Click here for Belgium’s government website to see how your business can benefit from the support available: https://www.belgium.be/en

Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.

See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/

Golden Bridge

With the announcement of this year’s Golden Bridge awards fast approaching, we’re providing a last look at the candidates before the awards ceremony in London next week. The awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from the Belgium and Luxembourg markets to the UK.

What specific research did you do before entering the Belgian market?

We attended seminars on ‘how to do’ Business in Belgium organized by the NL Chamber of Commerce for Belgium & Luxembourg and by UKTI. We gained a deep understanding of the legal and regulatory constraints in the Belgian market. Our Eclipse business focused on public sector procurement and gained technical market information and competitive analysis related to national and local Belgian buyers of language services. We carried out market research in cooperation with UKTI and the UK Embassy in Brussels and also through BLCC member surveys for specific market sectors (legal & financial).

We identified consumers in our main areas of expertise, such as Intellectual Property (patents), law and life sciences. We studied how their needs were influenced by regulatory requirements (such as related to patent filing, court proceedings, patient rights etc.) and adapted our offer to the identified needs for translation and information services. We also studied the division of tasks between different market players such as industry, (patent) attorneys & CROs, specific to the Belgian market, in order to better target our products and communication efforts.

Based on this research, what changes did you need to make to the services you provide to adapt to your new business environment?

We have recruited Dutch and French speaking Business Development Managers, Account Managers and Project Managers for the Belgian market. We provide free local telephone and fax numbers for making contact with us. We have created Dutch and French localized versions of marketing collateral and of website (Eclipse) and portals which clients are now increasingly using for ordering and monitoring translation and patent filing orders. Since we are selling a service, a very personal approach adapting to the Belgian way of doing business in which personal contact and mutual confidence is very important, with regular visits to potential and existing clients We provide locally certified translations and have access to translators capable of translating localized translations for the Belgian market as well as local suppliers for translation and proofreading with knowledge of local context and terminology. A European Affairs Division was created to manage our contractual relationships with European bodies and institutions. We have recruited in-house Dutch and French translators and interpreters and accommodated for local office hours and different holidays.

How do you plan to develop and further your business in Belgium?

We aim to increase PR activities with focus on the Belgian market working together with BLCC and BCCB and other relevant organisations, giving us more exposure to potential buyers of translation, interpreting and related services. This will also be supported through the use of digital and social media platforms (such as twitter, LinkedIn etc.).

The use of portals for ordering and monitoring ongoing orders as well as ordered volumes per category over time has become increasingly important. We will increase our efforts to adapt them to the Belgian market and to provide onsite and webex-based training sessions explaining the use and benefit of all the portal functionality. We will continue to screen and selectively target public sector procurement of translation and interpreting services.

More interaction and touch points with existing clients and new prospects will be generated through increased digital marketing and through new lead generating activities; using for example Flanders Investment & Trade and AWEX sources of information will be used to identify companies that are looking to engage in export market visits by country and by industry.

We will aim to increase the number of market visits and our attendance at local exhibitions, for example the Trends Investment Summit in Brussels, the Knowledge for Growth conference organized by FlandersBIO and the annual IBJ/IJE conference. We will seek to engage local sales, account, project management and production resources.

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

GBA banner

The Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain (BLCC) and the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium are very excited to announce the finalists for the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards, which will be presented at a gala dinner and awards ceremony in London on 26 November! The Golden Bridge awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from Belgium and Luxembourg market to the UK.

For the participating companies, the awards are an opportunity to celebrate success, raise their company profile and showcase their business credentials.Former winners and finalists – such as Farnell, Brussels Airlines, Le Pain Quotidien, Alpro, Real Good Food and Netshield – have confirmed that the award has enhanced their image both at home and abroad. Whether large or small, every finalist has achieved outstanding success in exporting and trading in Great Britain, Belgium or Luxembourg, and are among the standard bearers for the very best of UK-Belux exports.

The shortlist of British companies truly showcase the diversity of this year’s candidates; from training solutions experts Ignition to one of the world’s leading translation companies RWS.

It’s a similar story across the water with Belgian synthetic foam manufacturer NMC SA being nominated alongside carpet designers, manufacturers and distributors Classis Carpets, and Syx Automation, active in the field of leisure management software. Also in the mix are Projective, a leading independent provider of programme and project management to financial services institutions across Europe and beyond, The Fenzi Group, specialising in solutions for secondary processing of flat glass, and Soudal NV, Europe’s leading independent manufacturer of sealants, PU-Foams and adhesives.

The applicants have been shortlisted based on their financial performance, their innovation and strategy abroad, and their motivation for entering the awards. Belgian companies will be pitching to a board of judges in London on 15 October, chaired by Belgian Ambassador Guy Trouveroy, whilst British companies will be facing a similar selection panel in Brussels on 29 October, chaired by British Ambassador Alison Rose. Awards will be given in various categories based on company size, export history, and the overseas market in question.

Find the full list of finalists and their company descriptions here!

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

 

bri_05

This week, we’re putting the spotlight on the Golden Bridge Awards, which the British Chamber is co-organising with the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain for a fourth consecutive year. This summer we’ve been looking back on the successes of some of our past winners – Netshield, Real Good Food Europe and Premier Farnell – as they described the milestones they’ve achieved, the progress they’ve made and the learning experience they’ve had since becoming winners.

One key thing we learnt is that winning a Golden Bridge Award is rather a kick-starter than an end goal in itself, and that as a participating company, you need to think about how you make the most of your win:

“I would see it as a journey and not as a destination. It’s all about how you build on the award after the gala. Who you meet and what you achieve after is the key”, said Richard Carty, Commercial Director at Netshield, elaborating that: “Through connections we’ve made in Belgium since the Golden Bridge Award, we have been able to see that there is life outside of Brussels, as we are starting to expand our client-base to Flanders.”

Our past winners also shared their experiences of doing business in Belgium:

“Everything can take that little bit longer, and that is especially true for the business environment. When you come to Belgium, you have to play the long game, where patience is key. But once you have a way in, you are guaranteed stable clients and a trustworthy market”, Richard Carty told us.

Belgium’s geographical position and bureaucracy are two other aspects to consider:

“Belgium has the benefit of being globally well located. I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s ideal for business, but if you create the right framework then a lot of the local issues go away”, Jerry Vaughan, Global Operations Director at Premier Farnell said, with Thierry Dubois from Real Good Food Europe agreeing that: “one of the main challenges is definitely the administration and bureaucratic processes. I would advise any UK company entering Belgium for the first time to delegate as much as possible to an accounting office, lawyer’s office, or any kind of service that could give you a helping hand with the administrative work.”

Over the past few years, we’ve seen many different reasons for companies to apply for a Golden Bridge Award. For some, it’s all about the profiling that comes with the award win, for others the main objective is the related business development opportunities during the gala night and the follow-up events.

For Jerry Vaughan and Premier Farnell, the award helped to facilitate meetings with key stakeholders such as the British Ambassador and the Minister-President of Wallonia, while Thierry Dubois and Real Good Food discovered that the application process itself also offered a chance to reflect and recognise what the company had actually achieved:

“When you get busy growing your business and you are constantly striving to reach the next level, you usually don’t find the time to sit down and look back at what you have achieved. The award application process offered a great opportunity to do just that. Besides that, it was certainly a nice celebration party!”

If you think you have a great story to tell and would like to celebrate it with us, you might want to think about applying for this year’s Golden Bridge Awards. You will need to act soon, though, as applications close on Friday 11 September. Find all the information you’ll need here.

The Golden Bridge Awards recognise the trade and export success of UK companies doing business in Belgium, and Belgian & Luxembourg companies doing business in the UK. Companies of any size and in any industry can apply. Applications close in early September, and the winners will be announced at a high-level black-tie gala dinner in London on 26 November. Winning companies receive further recognition and profiling throughout the following year through the organising chambers. For more information on the awards and how to enter as a candidate, please contact James Pearson at james.pearson@britishchamber.be.

Golden_bridge2012-049In our series of revisiting past Golden Bridge Awards winners and their journeys since winning the award, today’s story puts the spotlight on Netshield.

Netshield is a technology and IT service led company that won the 2012 Golden Bridge Award for ‘Best Newcomer’. It has experienced continued success across Europe ever since.

Netshield came to Belgium on a market visit with UK Trade & Investment and made connections with a number of different organisations – including the British Chamber of Commerce – helping them to get a strong foothold in Belgium.

In less than three years, Netshield was able to grow exports by over 100%. Since 2010 Netshield has seen annual turnover growth of 35% of which 5.9% is due to Belgian exports.  

We took the chance to speak with Richard Carty, Commercial Director at Netshield.

Richard, it’s been about two and a half years since you won the award. Compared to where you were at the time and where you are now, what has happened?

We have been involved in Belgium for almost five years now, but it was only in 2012 that we experienced our first trading year. Starting from scratch, our revenues surpassed the 100.000€ mark, and it has been growing steadily ever since to about 500.00€ in 2015. Given that we have been through a recession which hit Belgium pretty badly in 2013, that is not a bad result.

Winning the award gave us some immediate smaller results in terms of recognition. But in the long term, we have managed to build from it and use it as a means to spread our word further to access key organisations and people.

What role does Belgium plays in Netshield’s activity?

At the moment, Belgium represents 20-25% of our turnover. Hopefully that will continue to grow, but we need to manage other markets too, as we don’t want to take our eye off them. That is challenge we are willing to accomplish at Netshield.

Regarding our client-base, Belgium offers a diverse spectrum of service-based companies and organisations such as various chambers of commerce and COBCOE. Compared to the UK, it’s different in the same: we are also very diverse there, but in sectors going from education, to retail, manufacturing, etc. In Brussels, all our clients can be encompassed under professional services because the city is focused on that.

However, that trend is quickly changing. Through connections we’ve made in Belgium since the Golden Bridge Award, we have been able to see that there is life outside of Brussels, as we are starting to expand our client-base to Flanders.

What surprised you most about working in Belgium?

As with everything in life, there are pleasant surprises and not so pleasant ones. In Belgium, everything can take that little bit longer, and that is especially true for the business environment. When setting up here, you have to be committed to the long run strategy, as sometimes you can only see the results after a number of years.

However, I find that it’s a nicer way of doing business here, one that is more relationship-based and not as price driven as in the UK and USA. Over there it’s all about how much you can cut the price.

When you come to Belgium, you have to play the long game, where patience is key. But once you have a way in, you are guaranteed stable clients and a trustworthy market.

Do you have any top tips for prospective Golden Bridge Awards candidates?

Your story needs to convince everyone, and that starts with you. We were honest and told it as it is. Many people tend to focus too much on financial volume, but that shouldn’t be a concern as long as you emphasize on what you have achieved with the amount you can generate. Its quality and not quantity that matters.

More importantly, I would see it as a journey and not as a destination. It’s all about how you build on the award after the gala. Who you meet and what achieve after is the key.

The Golden Bridge Awards recognise the trade and export success of UK companies doing business in Belgium, and Belgian & Luxembourg companies doing business in the UK. Companies of any size and in any industry can apply. Applications close in early September, and the winners will be announced at a high-level black-tie gala dinner in London on 26 November. Winning companies receive further recognition and profiling throughout the following year through the organising chambers. For more information on the awards and how to enter as a candidate, please contact James Pearson at james.pearson@britishchamber.be.

Brexit

Image taken from here

By Inge Boets, Managing Director
Porter Novelli

Brexit, the construed term to allude to the UK’s potential separation from the European Union, has been a trending topic for the past two years to the point that has become part of its brand identity.

Disenchantment with the EU has been a common occurrence since the UK joined the EU in 1973. This has given the Member State a reputation of playing-hard-to-get: fickle, high maintenance but a valuable asset in the Union.

The UK-EU relationship has however evolved to the point that the current marital predicament resembles the famous Clash-song “Should I stay or Should I go”. Yet this implied question also marks the shared values, interests and history.

The United Kingdom, by political design a union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern-Ireland, combines very different cultural traditions and projects. It has a firm grasp on the difficulties of managing these different identities while professing its common interests. This was recently on display during the Scottish Independence referendum in September 2014. The contradiction in the arguments the UK put forward in its plea for Scotland to stay within the Union and its stance vis-a-vis the European Union can’t hereby go unnoticed.

Better together has been the blueprint of the European Union since its inception. The debate whether the EU should remain the sum of its parts or go beyond, is also part of that blueprint; A debate that the UK has excelled in, for better or worse. The UK’s role as guardian of an alternative political thought has an important value but there are boundaries to the Europe à la carte.

The insular mentality and the imperial longing to days past as the “Perfidious Albion” have shown their limits on many occasions, especially in the last few years where close cooperation and common regulation saved the day.

There is always a give and take to any relationship but the benefits of close cooperation outweigh the costs of going alone and become the dependent party in the negotiations for access; asking for more as a modern Oliver Twist.

Aside from the economies of scale argument, there is also the concept of brand Britain that has been part of the cultural identity of scores of Europeans. The emotional and familiar connection through the arts for instance is unparalleled but also products seen as quintessential British have been promoted from beyond the borders with the EU as main trading partner. The jury is still out whether this would have an influence in case of a Brexit but emotional connections are capricious and the feeling of belonging in flux.

The upcoming elections and a potential referendum in 2017 will keep our eyes firmly set on the UK. How this will play out with its Presidency of the EU in 2017 is everybody’s guess but it promises to be, as the British tend to say, interesting.