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Taking your business global: Amber Energy’s Nick Proctor reflects on his recent trade trip to America

Wed, 05 August 2015

In this blog, Nick tells Shell LiveWIRE a bit more about the work Amber Energy does and offers some first-rate tips to any business looking to expand their offering to new markets.
In May 2015, Nick Proctor, Founder and Managing Director of Amber Energy, a UK-based energy management company, took a trade trip to the United States as part of Shell LiveWIRE’s international Let’s Go Trade programme to explore a partnership opportunity with an American company.
Hi this is Nick Proctor from Amber Energy! To give you a bit of background about us, Amber Energy was formed in 2009 and since then we’ve been growing to become the UK’s leading energy management company. We believe energy management should consider all aspects of your energy supplies in order to achieve the optimal set-up, so we look at things like the different ways you can buy energy, the different suppliers you can use, the products they offer, and so on, with the aim of helping you find the right product, from the right supplier and then ensure you buy on the right day. In addition to this we also look at energy reduction and energy efficiency. So, for example, we would look at your energy use, your energy source, how much energy you use in your building, and then we would look at the data, evaluate the building, and then optimise the way in which the building runs. 
I recently took a trip through Shell LiveWIRE and their international Let’s Go Trade programme to explore a partnership with an American company, and I just wanted to tell you a little bit about that trip. It was a great five days for me – very exciting as you can imagine. I headed over for five days and spent that time meeting different companies in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the primary objective of the trip was to build a relationship with a company out there. I didn't go with a firm idea that I would sign a contract while I was out there, because ultimately, just like in the UK, you need a relationship. You need to establish trust and you need to be able to work with somebody in another country before you look to sign terms. In terms of what we’re looking for from a partnership, it’s about adding to our USP, but it’s also about bringing transparency and technology to the forefront of energy management, so our customers can see how much they’re being charged, why they’re being charged, how they can lower consumption within their buildings, and so forth. 
The long-term ambition for the partnership is to sell our product into the US. But first and foremost we have to make the relationship work, then strengthen that relationship by adding some income and taking some import into the UK, and then we’ll revisit it and look to export our product out to the States. We've been clear in terms of that being our objective with the partnership, but we want to make sure that we don’t get ahead of ourselves. So essentially, we need to build a strong relationship, make sure that we get the product right in the UK and that we get the right agreement set up between us and them. 
So what's next for Amber Energy? 
The business will be seven years old this month (August 2015) and we're looking at taking our workforce up to 30 staff. We’ve got an office move coming up in the next couple of months and we're looking to really build up on our processes. We're trying to make them as slick as possible to allow for scale and, at the moment, we've got some huge enquiries coming in and we're trying to make sure that we can scale with that. We're certainly at an exciting stage of our growth! We've been out to review the service to ensure that we're delivering on our brand values of being transparent, honest, and open, whilst maintaining very high quality and high integrity with our customers, and now we're looking to scale that up.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
The hardest thing for me, personally, was stepping up to be a leader. In my previous roles, I was very used to being self-managed, being a self-starter, being entrepreneurial in the way I work, but I’d never had exposure of being a leader to a group of people. So with the company growing from 10, 15, 20 and soon 30 people, I've had to grow as a person and I’ve had to grow to be able to deliver and perform as a leader, to inspire my team. And that's been really tough. It's something that I've had to constantly revisit, something I've had to challenge myself on and something that I had difficulty coming to terms with in the early days. It's something I love doing now, but I started a business with aspirations and with a goal and with a vision, but I didn't really think about the fact that that would involve being a leader and leading a group of people and inspiring them on a daily basis to be different, to be bold, and to challenge the status quo in the market. As a sole founder, everything lies on your shoulders to start with and you need to find a way to not only delegate but to inspire and to motivate the people around you. It's taken a lot of work for me to get confidence in my leadership abilities. I love doing it now and I love being able to make an impact, to be able to see people grow and to know that I'm part of that. 
Any tips for people looking to open their businesses up to new markets?
  1. The first tip I would give is to find a country that you feel comfortable with – somewhere that you can deliver your product without too much of a barrier to speak in the same language. Communication is absolutely critical in terms of any business on a day-to-day basis, but certainly in terms of new markets. 
  2. Plan in advance and build a lot of flexibility into your trip. Make sure to communicate regularly before the trip and try to create some interest from the partner you're looking to work with. 
  3. Keep your objectives very, very simple. Don’t overpromise. Always under promise, always over deliver. Make sure you understand how your potential partner sells and what sort of selling points they have, how much they potentially oversell and try and work out where you can make some promises and be sure that you're going to be able to deliver upon them. 
  4. Definitely do it if you get the opportunity to because it's something that is great just in terms of understanding another market, but don't do it until you’ve got your business together in the UK or the country you're in first, unless you feel that you're in a market that might not be functioning the way you want it to and perhaps you might close your operation in the UK and move to another country.
Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award winners are offered the opportunity to participate in the Shell LiveWIRE International Let's Go Trade Programme. Find out more and apply now.
You can follow Nick and Amber Energy on Twitter, or follow their updates on their blog. 

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