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Lessons from an entrepreneur

Photograph: Brian Woodward

Text: Brian Woodward

Aarhus and Eastern Jutland is home to many internationally-minded companies

and organisations that all contribute to the internationalisation of this area.

This month we give the floor to Brian Woodward, owner of BoA Consult.

No-one prepares you for arrival in Denmark, and the endless ups and downs you'll experience in the job market. I arrived 17 years ago and spent the first year-and-a-half looking for a job.

At first, it was fun - kind of like a big sociology experiment – but, after the first dozen or so rejection letters, not so much. The job search for me became a prolonged battle against waning self-worth, culture shock and a painful exercise in resilience. I'd arrived in Aarhus with a good education, what I thought was a solid CV and had come from a great job on Madison Avenue in New York. But…no one seemed interested.

During this time, in part out of believing I really did have something to offer Denmark (in spite of all those rejection letters) and in part out of sheer desperation, I began thinking about starting my own business.

I read up on it and learned that with its flat hierarchies and high levels of social trust, Denmark is consistently ranked by organisations like the World Bank to be one of the easiest places on earth to start a business. The strong social welfare system eliminates some of the worst risks that start-ups face in other countries (things like homelessness, crippling debt, no pension and a loss of healthcare access). There are a surprising number of funds, incubators and free consulting resources aimed at helping start-ups, too.

"There are a surprising number of funds, incubators and free consulting resources aimed at helping start-ups, too." - Brian Woodward, Owner, BoA Consult

I finally landing my first job, but I'd already been bit by the urge to go solo. After four years of having a "real" job, I finally took the leap and started my own communications consultancy.

Since then I've spoken with a lot of other internationals who've expressed interest in doing the same. After all, being a consultant seems like a natural niche in a country so dependent on foreign trade and where it is, purportedly, so easy to start a business. In my 13 years with a CVR number, though, I have gained some hard-earned insight about chasing the 'selvstændig' consultant dream in Denmark that I often share with other internationals:

#1 Learn Danish first

Before moving to Denmark, many Danes told me, 'you won't have to learn Danish. All Danes speak perfect English, and you are a native speaker!' Not true. Here's a little dose of tough love that I wish more people had given me – Lær Dansk! It shows that you are fully invested, and it builds trust, which is valuable currency in Denmark's and one of this country's most important cultural values.

#2 Get a "real job" on your CV first

Little did I realise at the time, but landing my first job was a necessary first step (even though the job had little to do with where I am today). Not only did I learn Danish and better understand the Danish work culture, but it helped me meet a lot of great people who have since become a solid network and good friends, and it helped me establish credibility. So thanks, CCI Europe, for helping me find my way.

#3 Networking is everything

Building a good network and breaking into the right circles is notoriously hard in tight-knit Denmark, but it is the only way to win new business and stay afloat.

#4 Not all start-ups are the same

If you are planning to start a consultancy or knowledge-based business, know that it will be very hard to grow. Most of those resources for start-ups I mentioned above are aimed at tech and manufacturing businesses with relatively high growth potential. Salaries for hiring new employees are high, and when politicians and economic development organisations point out how easy and how important it is to be an entrepreneur in Denmark they are not talking about consultancies and professional service companies.

#5 Your safety net will get smaller

It is often said that Denmark is a wage earner's country. Very true. The social welfare system and its safety nets regarding everything from 'dagpenge' to Corona help packages exist to accommodate salaried employees, the public sector and organised labour. As an independent contractor, you'll invariably forfeit access.

#6 Hire a good accountant

A good accountant can help you set up a company in a way that will optimise your personal economic situation. I have run into some bad ones, but the good ones have been some of the best money I've ever spent. And remember - the taxes here are for real. Make sure your accountant helps you understand the tax system and helps you pay your VAT and corporate tax on time, or you will quickly be overwhelmed.

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