Cultural and commercial considerations

When considering setting up a business abroad, it’s vital to take into account the commercial realities and cultural differences of the region to which you’re moving.

The way business is done varies a great deal between different countries, so wherever you’re moving from and to, you’ll need to adjust your working practices. In addition to obvious differences, such as the hours people work and public holidays, there will be much more complex considerations connected with local laws and customs. The working conditions and pace of life may be very different from what you are used to, which will affect your personal life, business approach, how easily you can attract customers, ultimately, the success of your business. For example, in Italy cold calling is rarely successful, so most introductions to new contacts will be via a third party. In parts of Asia, strict punctuality is expected of all guests and arriving late to a meeting will cause great offence.

The most obvious way to ease the transition and prevent yourself making mistakes is to learn about the political, cultural and economic environment of your destination before you move. Research the area in question and read as much as you can the dos and don’ts of social and commercial life abroad. Try to talk to people who have worked in the same country or have set up a business in that area themselves. Making your first contact and getting things done will be easier if you know in advance how to greet people, how to dress and how to behave in your new environment. You can also investigate local customs by contacting your country’s embassy that’s based in the overseas destination you’ve chosen. And travel guides often provide this type of information.

Although it might seem less important that other start-up issues, without this cultural research you may be making it harder for yourself to get your business off the ground. Difficult situations or frustrating confrontations can occur and you may inadvertently offend local citizens or officials – that’s not going to help your fledgling enterprise. For example, English may be widely spoken but knowledge of local language and customs makes for better working relationships and avoids misunderstandings. If possible, start language lessons as early as possible before you leave. Getting to grips with another language takes time. Local colleges provide lessons for all levels and many have specific language for business classes. If you prefer private study, you can of course buy study books, tapes and CDs from most bookshops and obviously there’s a wide range of learning material, video and audio clips available on the internet.

One additional consideration is the issue of corruption. In many countries, bribery is a standard practice and an accepted part of doing business. The impact of this on your business is something you should try to estimate beforehand by getting in contact with other successful businesses in the area and learning from their experiences. Find out in what instances they had to ‘smooth things over’ with local authorities, figureheads, suppliers or even clients and, most importantly, how much did it cost them?

Related Topics

Doing Business Abroad

Leave a comment