UK Business Etiquette: 6 Rules You Must Remember

A complete guide on the types of actions and behaviours you can expect to see when starting a business in the United Kingdom.

If you’re a foreigner looking to start a business in the United Kingdom, there are a number of things to consider in order for you to succeed.

Putting economic factors aside, the UK’s viewpoint towards certain behaviours and actions can often be the difference between securing further revenue or not.

To help you get a firm grasp of business etiquette quickly, we’ve used a section out of our brand new book as a handy starting point.

Punctuality

Punctuality is arguably one of the most important factors when attending a meeting or interview in the United Kingdom.

To be late suggests that you’re not organised and is deemed as very impolite. To many countries around the world, business owners can often mistake British people as appearing rushed or flustered. However, this is due to their desire to always be on time and on schedule.

If you are unable to make your meeting or interview on time, try to call at least ten minutes before to let attendees know that you’re running behind and always apologise when you arrive.

Gift giving

Gift giving isn’t really common practice among UK-based businesses, unless it’s to mark a special occasion such as Christmas or a work anniversary.

If you do choose to give a client a small token of your appreciation, you shouldn’t use it as a bribe.

Among employees and colleagues, flowers are usually given to commemorate their birthday – although you should avoid roses and lilies, as the former denotes romantic intentions and the latter is a symbol of grief.

Dress code

The way you dress in the UK says a lot about your business. As an employer, it’s up to you whether you take a more relaxed stance on dress code or not.

However, it’s highly recommended to adopt a formal office dress code consisting of darker colours, as this will give off a professional image to customers and clients alike.

More recently, a lot of offices have adopted dress down Friday, where employees can wear something more casual. This is a great way of giving something back to your staff.

Meetings

A lot of meetings, especially those carried out with potential clients, starts off with “small talk”. This usually involves talking about the weather and discussing the events of the past weekend.

Once the formalities have been completed, a meeting should always follow a pre-written agenda, detailing timings and contents of the meet.

If you have any questions, you are usually expected to wait until the end of the meeting when it concludes with any other business (AOB).

Furthermore, you should at least glance or make a positive comment if you’re handed a business card or piece of collateral too.

Humour

Setting the right tone of any correspondence with other UK businesses is of paramount importance to build a first-class relationship with both parties.

Humour usually plays a pivotal role in achieving this – in particular, a sarcastic or self-depreciating one.

Just make sure that you assess the environment and peoples’ moods before trying to crack a joke, as getting this wrong can have a negative impact.

Introductions and socialisation

The final rule of UK business etiquette is making sure you greet and speak the right way. All introductions should start with a firm handshake and strong eye-contact.

Always address a person using their title and surname only, unless they choose to introduce themselves using their first name.

Before you start any meeting with a client, be sure to offer all of the personnel in attendance a cup of tea or coffee to make them feel welcome.

During a meeting or in any other form of communication, UK businesses are more inclined to use indirect speech. This means that they try to avoid using expressions and words that make them sound blunt, even if their response is largely negative.

Using softer language can help you make a better impression, for example:

Don’t say: “I disagree with you”

Do say: “I see what you mean, but…”

Want to discover more insights? Then purchase our book, ‘How to Run a Business in the United Kingdom’ in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon.