Doing business in the UK compared to the USA – just how easy is it?
The United States is not only the world’s largest national economy but it stands out as a country that celebrates anyone who has a go at becoming an entrepreneur; echoing the pioneering attitudes of its first settlers.
It can be hard to get your head around living and working in America but, for those businesses that succeed, the opportunities are as vast as the continent itself. To give you an idea, 10 of the States are larger than Britain and each of the 50 States have their own distinct tastes, purchasing behaviours, regulations and climates. Both business and consumer practices vary not only from state-to-state but city-to-city and town-to-town.
The biggest difference between setting up a business in the USA and the UK is that the USA has a staggering amount of business information and insight readily available. There is a wealth of information to help identify where a product or service is most suited.
Even with the global access the Internet affords, local compliance, legislation, and local customer preferences will alter the way a business is obliged to conduct its trade. Regulatory compliance and a difference in Legislation will therefore, also ultimately affect where and how a business decides to trade.
With the current focus on the environment and sustainability, coupled with the global recession and rising costs, the energy market is one that is both global and offers enormous opportunity. Governments continue to invest in encouraging green energy models – ranging from recycling to solar power, wind farms, electric cars and biomass projects – but the costs of structural change are high and, in the meantime, businesses and consumers continue to seek ways to reduce their energy costs.
An obvious place to start is online. Using data on current energy usage and cost, combined with the preference for the tariff, it’s possible to compare prices from different suppliers. Price comparison tools offer an easy way to compare the prices from lots of suppliers at once but, while there are lots of energy price comparison websites for domestic customers, there are few offering a genuine online comparison of business energy, an example being Simply Business Energy.
Any business welcomes and will use an energy price comparison site that is able to offer the following key benefits:
- Transparency: the ability to see all prices not just the ones the energy broker decides to tell the client
- Real-time price updates: prices online within 30 seconds that cover any business meter type in the UK. Only one business energy comparison website currently offers this.
- Online access: most energy cost reduction organisations phone clients and that can be a real hassle when running a small business.
To take this kind of business into the US, though, represents a real challenge as it would mean needing to strike a tricky balance of maintaining the benefits of system conformity and quick customer journey response in the context of a more diverse market structure than the UK.
The UK market is simpler to deal with in that it is ‘one market’ (even allowing for the regional variations) whereas US energy market regulation and competition differs region by region so it would mean effectively reworking the pricing engine region by region. Consistency of rules is what makes a comparison website work – having 10 or more pricing engines changes the economics – the answer would be probably to start with one area say the North East of the US where there is a lot of competition already and where, therefore, price comparison is of more value to business customers.
Wherever a business is trading, it will use similar techniques to locate and attract its local market audience. This will include a mix of marketing activities such as organic search, adwords, social media and trade organisation events. While this approach is obviously similar in US, a great deal of business in the UK is done through personal relationships as well. Although that’s true everywhere now so, in the US, too, it would also be important to have a more direct approach and style, and the costs of doing this are far higher owing to the territory to cover.
A website may make a business global in terms of customers accessing services but it is still critical to work and think locally. In general, there are only one set of rules to deal with across the UK. Working in the US it is vital to address local issues such as what the minimum wages are in the different states; local tax and rate rules and the different regulations governing the energy market in various regions.
An energy price comparison site may be selling a single product with little differentiation. But the way business owners think about buying energy varies greatly – not just by business sector but by attitude to how important they regard energy and their general buying philosophy.
The UK has been subject to significant price rises as it imports gas and incurs costs for reducing carbon emissions. In the US such a business would need to respond to a greater variety of buying attitudes and, at the moment, shale gas has changed many people’s perception of energy costs and how important they are. The UK has taken a leading but high cost route to carbon reduction and this is something that would have a different emphasis in the US.
To become the leading price comparison website for business customers and to continue to lead the market in innovation and product promotion will be the primary aim of any ambitious, up and coming energy price comparison site and to, ultimately, provide transparency to the end business user so they have confidence and comfort in the product they have chosen.
Taking a technology approach to the way such a business is run suits markets where the system can be replicated, thus reducing the costs incurred in serving the market. It also helps in keeping development times to a minimum, being able to respond quickly to customer requirements and adjust the marketing and customer journey accordingly.
Rather like the pioneers with their wagon trains, the success of any business depends on how well equipped a business is to weather the different seasons and be able to access intelligence that can make sense of all the variables and then source the right supplies.
An energy price comparison site for business that can help guide a business through simply, quickly and effectively, saving it significant costs in the process, is a business destined for a bright future.