How difficult can it be to do business overseas?
Whether you run a small or large business, it can be complex and baffling. The actual nature and size of your business is irrelevant when you’re in a personal meeting. A cultural faux pas remains just as embarrassing. Social behavior that nobody would think twice about at home can be embarrassing overseas.
An article from the Guardian.com about cultural etiquette and business overseas illustrates how simple things can get out of hand. The article relates the story of Will Tindall. The British entrepreneur had learned how to do business in Hong Kong and Singapore, and he had become adept at their business rituals. Unfortunately, things in Japan were completely different.
Coached in Japanese etiquette, he approached a senior official in an international bank. After an introduction, he bowed when he received the man’s business card. All appeared to be going well until he began to make notes on the back of the card to remember the details of the meeting.
Tindall recalls, “At that point I saw this guy’s face change to a very strange shade of red. My actions went down incredibly badly. Although I was giving this business card lots of respect, the idea of writing on it was definitely frowned upon. When I went to leave and try to shake his hand, he turned his back on me. It was embarrassing but then I quickly realized that was also because they don’t really shake hands.”
7 Essential Guidelines
With Tindal’s story in mind, here are 7 tips to help you avoid distress when doing business overseas:
- Recognize that customs mean a lot to people.While you may scoff at tradition in your homeland, ethics can be different overseas. If you flaunt the culture of a new society, it can ruin your business relationship. So, before entering into any business deal, understand the cultural implications of words and gestures. You will avoid a lot of grief if don’t assume that business principles are universal.
- Master a few language phrases. It’s not a waste of time to learn foreign language phrases if your client speaks fluent English. It is a perfect way to build instant rapport. People love to know that someone has taken the time to learn a little about their language and way of doing things.
- Pay attention to legalities. Business depends on contracts, communicating boundaries, and coming to a fair agreement. Legal issues for each country can be different and, moreover, translating legal documents is essential for your business negotiations. Government agencies and courts of law want certified translated documents. Without certification, they are not recognized as an official or legal document.
- Understand the country you are visiting before you leave. There are many online resources to help you. It’s easy to learn about history, geography, and cultural information. This understanding will help you to notice cultural barriers when they arise. Besides getting a broad overview pay attention to details. Anticipating things like national holidays and knowing about time zones can prevent problems. The more you know about a local culture, the easier it will be to get along with people. Conversely, the less you know about it, the more likely a good deal can go awry.
- Be clear on payment terms. If you are selling something, then either receive a large down payment or a complete payment. An installment plan may only work well in your own country. But it can prove disastrous when collecting money from someone in another country. The reason for this is that it can be challenging enforcing a contract and collecting on your money. It’s not easy to arrange a court date in another country. Also, it’s not easy to chase a debtor several time zones away.
- Don’t rush into doing business overseas. If your small business is doing well, it’s easy to imagine that it will be popular elsewhere. You might reason that your product is something that everyone needs. But, in reality, extending your business overseas is like starting a whole new business. You will have to do extensive research to pull it off. You must do your due diligence on markets, customs, and local vendors before you go global. Only create an international business when your company can handle the workload. If you launch too early, it will be an extra drain on your company’s time and resources.
- Establish trust early and maintain it. When working with clients and vendors, trust is essential. The best way to establish trust is to research the reputation of the people you plan to do business with.
While these 7 tips are by no means comprehensive, they give you a much better idea of what it’s like to go global. Yes, expanding overseas is an exciting idea. But you have to do it at the right time and in the right way–otherwise, your business venture will result in unexpected losses.