What It Takes to Start a Business Abroad

Starting a busy isn’t simple in one’s own country, let alone abroad. The average startup is mired by logistical puzzles and cash flow concerns, and those hurdles only get more complicated opening up a business in another country. To get it right, you not only have to be a savvy businessperson, but you have to be adaptable as well.

It helps if you’ve fallen in love with the country in which you’re planning to start a business. Whether it’s Canada, China, Australia or Morocco – whether they speak your language and share your basic customs or not – you have to have a deep and abiding respect for the country if you plan on doing business there. It will help you make the most of the experience, and help you connect with customers/clients.

With a level of respect and understanding as your baseline, there are a few critical things you can do to ensure success in your new environment.

Work to Keep Costs Reasonable

As you would if you were opening a business at home, forge connections with suppliers and fellow businesses to get good prices and keep down operating costs.

If you’re in Canada, for instance, and are starting a construction business, open lines of communication with a dealership specializing in leasing commercial equipment to get the best price. If you’re opening a bar in Thailand, as another example, connect with a number of local liquor suppliers to price compare. Keeping costs reasonable may take a little extra effort when you don’t yet know anyone, but that extra work will pay off.

Familiarize Yourself With the Language

You want to make it in a foreign country, then you better be able to connect with its buyers. There’s simply no way you are going to effectively open up a business in, say, Mexico, without at least attempting a basic grasp of Spanish.

Even if your chosen country speaks English, you should still familiarize yourself with the idiosyncrasies and idioms of the national patois. For instance, those in Canada might speak a little different than Americans, and both have a much different way of communicating than Brits across the pond. Understanding these differences will help with branding and marketing in your business’ new home.

Tailor Your Product/Service to Local Tastes

Incorporate market research into your business plan, however informal it ends up being. This might involve – on the more intensive end – developing customer surveys or scouring public and commercial records for market data. Or, it might just mean informally polling your local friends on what they want, how they want it, and what they’d pay for it.

Find a Local Mentor

To help you through it all, it’s good to have guidance. But whatever business guidance you had back home is not quite going to be enough. To help you in all the above points – the language, business connections and market research – you should have a local mentor. How do you get one? Be open in the business community, network with locals and be forthright about both your ambitions and your cultural blind spots.

It may be difficult, but it’s doable. With the right connections, and an earnest respect for your chosen country, your business abroad can flourish.

Cultural sensitivities to keep in mind when doing business in Asia

Anybody who has been paying attention to markets over the past couple of decades can tell you that emerging markets is where its at when it comes to getting great returns.

Most industries in developed parts of the world have reached or passed the maturation phase, making the creation of real wealth effectively impossible for most investors.

However, many growth economies can still be found in Asia. From China to Indonesia, those willing to dive in head first have a great chance of finding investment opportunities that could earn them a considerable return on their cash.

However, life here is completely different compared to the West, making it challenging for new arrivals to adjust to the way business is done there.

Bob Stefanowski has built up significant experience in Asia, helping to run 3i Group’s interests in the region since 2009.

In that time, he has come to understand the special considerations one must make when trying to establish a foothold in this challenging part of the world.

In this post, we’ll go over several concepts you’ll need to comprehend before you can enjoy real success in Asia.

1) Rules vary greatly compared to those at home

As alluded to in the intro, the way things are done in Asia often represents a complete 180 to how we do things at home.

These societies have been influenced by schools of thought and religions like Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam. As such, there are cultural considerations that can serve to throw an unexpected monkey wrench into your plans.

Planning meetings on a Friday won’t work in the Middle East, as this is the Sabbath Day in the Islamic calendar.

Even things like touching people on the head and pointing with your feet can get you into trouble in laid back countries like Thailand, as these gestures are highly offensive to Buddhists.

Have an executive assistant do in-depth research on a target country’s cultural beliefs before departure, as this will allow you to leave a good first impression.

2) Hand out business cards printed in their local language

An initial meeting might not end with a business deal. As such, it is always important to leave a new prospect your contact info.

Most do this by leaving their card, but few think to create a special batch before taking off for a place like China.

Your initial contact may understand English, but if your card is passed off to someone who only knows Mandarin, they won’t be able to get in touch with you.

By printing the other side in a second language, you expand your reach, and you leave a positive impression with those who know English as a second language.

3) Learn about the concept of ‘face’

Of all the things you’ll learn before heading off to Asia, the concept of ‘face’ is the most important concept you should internalize.

It is a sociological concept which refers to one’s personal or family prestige. Many people in Asian countries are obsessed about how others view them, leading them to go to extraordinary lengths to build up a reputation and to protect it.

Any action that may embarrass your hosts should be avoided at all costs. Avoid putting your contacts on the spot, as they may say yes even if they might not be able to deliver. If they fail, they’ll end up losing face, which could have bad consequences for you.

Instead, be patient in your dealings with Asian business contacts, and you’ll eventually end up in a situation where you will be able to get what you want.