I started working in marketing more than twenty years ago, and have quite some experience founding agencies – Bloom Worldwide is the fourth I’ve set up.
I founded the company to provide international social media campaigns. Today, my team uses a deep knowledge of data, content and search to challenge our clients to communicate powerfully and effectively.
We’re a very global company. Our clients are all international, and the majority are based overseas – we provide work in the English language that’s read and enjoyed all over the world. Though the majority of our clients are based in Europe, Brighton seemed the obvious place to found the agency – it’s a real hub for digital marketing and is full of creative and technical talent.
Nevertheless, having our base in the UK does have its challenges, the most significant of which is currency risk. This is something that affects any company with clients overseas, and can seriously affect your bottom line if a solid FX strategy is not put in place.
Because we provide services to foreign clients, we are left open to the threat of currency risk – any sudden movement in exchange rates can damage our profit margin. 80% of our revenue is paid in euros or US dollars, which has been difficult during the recent period of strength for the pound – great if you’re going on holiday, but a hurdle for British businesses billing clients in foreign currencies.
Because we’re based in the UK we naturally need to transfer this money back into sterling, and this is where the risk comes in. There’s always the threat that the pound will strengthen between signing a contract and receiving our payment, meaning we get less in real terms than we had originally planned for.
Not only is it hard to standardise costs, but there’s also a very real risk of losing money.
When I founded my first business back in the 90s, I took a payment from an American client right after the dollar had plummeted against the pound. I hadn’t considered that exchange rates would shift so enormously between signing the contract and taking the payment when the work was completed. Our entire operating profit was wiped out for the project – around £20,000!
These days, I bring in outside experts to manage the agency’s currency exposure – bitter experience has taught me I’m no currency guru!
After comparing quotes from specialist transfer providers, I chose UKForex to manage our international payments and help us build a robust currency strategy. Before then, I had no idea how these were constructed, or of the many types of money transfer that could combine to protect my business.
As I learnt, most companies prefer to use a cost-averaging strategy, using a combination of spot and forward exchange contracts to balance foreign exchange risk. A percentage of future currency exposure is hedged through forward contracts, which lock in today’s exchange rate for payments in the future. The remaining percentage is left open, so businesses can take advantage of future market movements using spot contracts (simple, one-off transfers). This provides some protection against adverse changes in the exchange rate, while still allowing for upside potential.
Bloom is now using a similar mixture of forward contracts and spot trades. As well as protecting us from risk, this is saving the business around £10,000 a year – a hefty sum when you add it all up!
Before turning to UKForex, I used my bank for all of the agency’s currency dealings.
The bank would do as I asked, but really I needed someone who could explain all the risks and help build a robust currency strategy for the business. I had no currency expertise and no idea what I was doing – I also didn’t know I could get a better deal. If you’re looking for a lesson here, I’d say this: if you want to be involved in international business, make sure you’ve got an expert onside who understands the currency markets better than you!
It can be hard as a founder to recognise there’s something you don’t know, but I’ve realised over the years that it’s always far better to just admit it. The best leaders I’ve ever known were those that acknowledged their limits – not those that pretended to know everything.
Be careful – some companies may entice you in with super competitive rates, only to push them up again once you’ve completed a few transactions. If you ask questions around pricing transparency and rate consistency before you sign up, you should quickly find the provider that’s best for you.
A bank will typically quote you exchange rates that are between 3-5% different from the interbank exchange rate, so it’s worth seeking a few quotes from established, FCA-regulated foreign exchange companies or use a site like FXcompared.com to round up the options.
If you want to find out more about FX for small businesses or the types of currency strategy available, click here.