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The British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce – remaining relevant in a world of technological change

Chris Barton

Digital technology is changing business and the way it is conducted at such a hallucinating pace that it is no mean feat for trade organisations and chambers of commerce to remain relevant to its members.

When potential members beg the question “How can you help us?” a chamber of commerce needs to offer a pretty good raft of products and services that differentiate it from the rest and bring value-added to their businesses.

That need to innovate and keep relevant has led to constant evolution regarding how the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce rethinks and adapts its offer to keep pace with market change in order to entice more businesses, organisations and professionals to join.

Chris Barton, CEO of the BPCC says that “technology impacts on every business” and has revolutionised many of the traditional businesses.

“Sustained success means remaining informed, keeping pace and not being complacent, while having access to the most insightful business gurus and influential trend-setters is crucial.” explains Chris Barton of a Chamber that has been in existence for over 100 years in Portugal, helping Portuguese businesses set up in the UK and British business to flourish in Portugal.

Networking cocktails popular in the Algarve
The benefits of membership mean different things to different members in different parts of Portugal. In the Algarve, for example, networking is highly prized. “Our monthly networking cocktails attract 60-120 people as the typical Algarve based member finds this format particularly appealing. Experience shows that we have a fairly even split between Portuguese nationals and foreigners” says Chris Barton.

“Many of the Algarve members are typically companies with fewer than 12 employees and membership numbers have steadily increased with the BPCC being the most successful and well-known chamber of commerce in that region — the only one with a dedicated regional representative.

The Brexit effect
Chris Barton says there remains frustration and concern from Portuguese and British expatriates alike. Two years on from the referendum and there are still many unanswered questions which leaves people feeling insecure. However, there is some comfort in the notion that the Portuguese have been compatible and harmonious friends for hundreds of years, long before either of us were in the EU, so there is expectation that at least our two countries will find a peaceful way of preserving our mutual respect and buoyant bilateral trade.

One negative consequence which has already been evident is that some Portuguese companies have been a little more reluctant to exhibit at trade shows in the UK which impacts on one of our more important sources of income.” Conversely, we have seen an upturn of companies regarding the upheaval relating to Brexit as providing new opportunities. Entrepreneurs are often opportunistic by nature, so disruption is an environment in which they can thrive.

The bottom line
“Although making a profit is crucial for a company’s long-term welfare, businesses have become increasingly conscious that the “bottom line” isn’t the only KPI worthy of monitoring. Preserving reputation, pride in being a diverse employer and contributing to protecting the environment, all have new significance. The membership strives to be an integral part of the local community so that we can add value to the economic, social and cultural environment in Portugal”

The BPCC is renowned for the quantity and diversity of the events it offers its members – some of which are by invitation only and therefore perceived as being very exclusive. A popular format, particularly amongst the Lisbon based members, is the ‘brain-storming think-tank lunches’ where between 12-20 people are carefully selected to exchange experiences and opinions around a common theme. Recent themes have included “the role of reputable international schools for attracting foreign families to settle in Portugal”; “Moving towards a cashless society – what impact will the increasingly discussed phenomenon of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies have on mainstream businesses?”, “Defining your value proposition – and how to implement it” and “Ladies of Influence”.

By delivering on its own unique value proposition, the BPCC can support in delivering those of its members, while association with the Chamber facilitates positioning within a specific and clearly defined business interest group. This can help align members themselves with potential clients and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

United through shared values and common interests
Furthermore, members’ valuable contributions towards the Chamber’s communal objectives can help substantiate the member’s own values.

“Irrespective of the area of commercial activity, people need people and human interaction through knowledge sharing and close collaboration bring about best practices for the common good of the wider business community” says Chris Barton.

“History has shown that nobody can survive alone and that “we are stronger together”, so by a small act of Corporate Social Responsibility, such as becoming a chamber member, an enterprise can contribute and benefit from the association’s collective talents and strengths.

The BPCC provides a forum for well-established corporations, right through to those leading edge, ground-breaking start-ups currently disrupting the status quo, and all have a rightful place as part of the Chamber’s bigger picture.

One of the BPCC’s strengths is that it has a regular influx of new members offering fresh perspectives to tap into, while The nomenclature of “Chamber of Commerce” is an internationally recognised brand which means it is at the forefront of companies’ minds when it comes to looking for trustworthy sources of business intelligence, and members benefit from being part of this credibility.

The companies which benefit most from being a Chamber member are those which are able to participate in the activities which we offer, identify the opportunities which inevitable arise, then be proactive in taking the appropriate actions. “We provide the opportunities; Members are encouraged to capitalise on the opportunities presented.”

Beyond networking many Members recognise the value of marketing opportunities by broadcasting their achievements in our newsletters, advertising on our website or annual directory, or sponsoring one of our many events.

Portuguese manufacturers and exporters wishing to break into the UK market use the Chamber’s “Commercial Introduction Service” where we conduct a thorough market research, identify potential clients or distributors, and arrange one-to-one meetings with the companies short-listed by our client. Trade shows which have proven to be popular with Portuguese exhibitors in recent years have included the construction sector, food & drink, hotel furnishing, fashion & textiles, interior design, gym and spa equipment and furnishings.

The Chamber measures its own success by the feedback we receive from our clients, and judging from the steady flow of rave testimonials the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce remains as relevant today as it ever was.

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Essential Business