A Guide To Conducting International Business
Today, we live in a more global environment than ever before. We can buy products from around the world, easily travel internationally with little or no notice, open businesses in other countries and buy property in multiple international locations. If you run a company and want to expand your global reach, however, you need a solid international business strategy to capitalize on all the opportunities available.
The world can make it seem as though opening a new business internationally is simple, but even large corporations have shown the importance of paying attention to strategic thinking. Large companies such as Uber have struggled to gain a foothold in China and many smaller companies have encountered significant challenges when trying to take their international business ideas to new markets.
At Quintessentially People, we understand the larger market. As a premier recruiting agency, we help high-end and high-profile clients from around the world find the highly skilled talent they need to excel in their endeavors. We’ve put together this international business guide to help you gain an advantage in taking your business beyond your current borders.
The Basics of International Business Strategy: Getting Started
If you want to expand your business internationally, there are a few things you’ll want to do to get started:
1) Take Things Slow
In today’s hectic business environment, you may be highly motivated to launch global brands, open offices on new continents and dive into international business. However, this is not a process to rush. Start by visiting your international target markets socially. Get a sense of how life is organized and how business is conducted.
If you visit parts of rural Italy, for example, you may notice social relationships and recommendations are important in business and transactions tend to take a slower pace than they do in parts of North America, Asia and Europe.
2) Focus on Language, Culture and International Business Etiquette First
Take classes on etiquette and language first so you can communicate well with international clients and colleagues. Learning some of the words is important, even if your colleagues speak English. It shows you respect their culture and are willing to make an effort.
It’s also difficult to overstate the importance of culture-specific etiquette classes. Some innocuous gestures in North America and some European countries are deeply offensive in other countries. In parts of Greece, Afghanistan or Iran, for example, the “thumbs up” gesture may be interpreted as very rude.
Make friends with foreign colleagues and associates and attend local events with them. Read books about the culture and history of the regions where you will be conducting business. Find local talent to support you. If you don’t have local consultants or advisors, recruit some local talent to help you.
And you can always contact Quintessentially People to find local talent in your target region so you’ll have someone by your side, assisting you as you get acclimatized to a new place.
3) Develop Reciprocal Business Relationships
Consider flying business partners and colleagues to your part of the world or even setting up exchange programs. International business goes both ways, and developing a give-and-take relationship is an important way to solidify your business relationships.
4) Become an Active Listener and Get in Touch With Your Sense of Adventure
You may have a specific idea of how you want international projects or business ventures to go, but stay curious. Ask international clients, colleagues and associates how things are done in their region and be willing to try new things. It shows respect for another culture and can strengthen working relationships, since others may love to explain their own ideas and cultures.
Active listening and trying out new ideas can also strengthen your international business, as local colleagues may have ideas very well suited for local markets.
5) Study Extensively Before You Start
Consider creating a binder at home or a file on your computer to keep track of all you learn about international business and your target market. This can help you study everything you need to remember. Your file or binder should have separate entries on culture, etiquette, local business, local resources, language and other topics. Review your information often so you can really master it.
You should be studying for international business with the same focus you would use for a degree. It’s that important. For example, if you will be doing business in Italy, you need to know business leaders tend to dress in trendy and expensive Italian designer clothing, including Italian designer ties. Keeping track of current trends is important. In addition, you may be involved in conversations about Italian art, architecture and culture, so brushing up on these subjects can be a big help. You also need to remember to avoid the subject of World War II, in most cases.
Keeping all this information in one place and reviewing it often helps you feel more prepared and confident as you move forward with your business ventures.
6) Remember Business Principles
While you will want to focus on local cultures, laws, language and business, don’t forget to review good business principles, too. Just as with any venture, you will still want to complete your due diligence and to read up about your industry in your area and globally.
International Business Services and Resources You Will Need
You will have a much easier time succeeding internationally if you don’t attempt it alone. Successful international businesses, in fact, use team efforts to make the most of international business opportunities. No matter your industry, you’ll need some specific services and resources:
1) Legal Support
International business law is complex and ever-changing. You will generally need attorneys and other legal support in your target market and in your current place of residency, so you can comply with all relevant laws.
Attorneys and legal representatives can help you with contracts, licensing and any other requirements. They can help with taxation and can help you stay compliant as laws change. They can also take care of international business negotiation, which may be very different from the negotiation style you’re used to.
2) Local Business Resources
Local industry associations and business associations can help you network and become part of the local business community. They can also help you understand the local business culture and can pave the way for new joint ventures.
3) Networking and Mentor Support
Trying to work out international business ethics, best practices and success strategies can be daunting. Networking with professionals or having a mentor who has succeeded in international business can help. Networks and mentors can offer practical tips as well as personal support.
4) Language Resources
Interpreters can assist with business meetings and with helping you understand clients and colleagues where a language barrier may exist. Quality translators are essential for translating websites, contracts, letters, emails, marketing materials and other written text.
5) Image Consultants and Etiquette Coaches
Once you have mastered the language, it can be useful to work with a local business consultant, image consultant, media trainer and etiquette coach. There are many image consultants around the world who can help you understand local customs and the best ways to dress.
In South Africa, for example, you may find many meetings take place over meals and meetings tend to be casual and unrushed. Formal dress, however, is expected.
6) Local Talent
Your local business success may well hinge on the local talent you hire. Your local team may be in charge of your success while you’re away and you will generally depend on their understanding of local business, culture and language to help you succeed.
The local recruitment process is essential, which is why you will want to contact Quintessentially People
, the recruitment solution for discerning international clients. We can help you find international talent locally, so no matter where you live we can help find the right professionals for your international business needs.
International Business Tips
If you are launching an international business, expanding into new global markets or merging companies in a way which will expose you to international business, you will want to take these tips to heart:
1) Avoid Taking an Entirely Holistic View of a Region
When examining the culture of a target market, stay sensitive to regional differences. It may be tempting to read about an entire country, which can cause you to miss out on important information you need when you open an office in a specific city.
For example, you may read that Canada has English and French as official languages and that culturally it has some similarities to the United States. If you speak English and conduct business in the United States, you may feel confident in approaching a local market. But what if you were confronted with phrases such as “Yes b’y” or “Whattaya at?” or “mind now?” These are examples of phrases used by some speakers in parts of Newfoundland, and many business leaders may not feel prepared for this language or the local food or culture unless they read up about that specific region.
2) Say “Thank You”
Sending thank you notes and letters is good business etiquette, at home and abroad. Many people will be assisting you as you expand your reach and you will want to make sure you express your gratitude formally. In every language, people like to be thanked for the gestures they make.
3) Focus on People
When attending a meeting or interview, don’t get down to business the minute you enter the room. Say “hello” and start with some small talk. Make sure you understand the local rules about this. In some cultures, a longer period of social talk is required.
When in any interaction, focus on the people. Do not stare at your phone the entire time. Respect people’s time by listening to them. Get to know their names and do your best to remember the people you meet.
4) Keep an Eye on Dress
In many places, including Argentina, Poland, China and many other countries, formal dress is the standard for business transactions. In China, conservative dress is important and in Argentina darker-colored suits and formal clothing is often worn. In China, women should avoid wearing short skirts, short-sleeved shirts and high heels, as this type of clothing may not meet local ideas of business and appropriate modesty.
5) Understand Gift-Giving
Business gift-giving is complex on an international stage. In many cases, gifts are appreciated, but the idea of what to offer varies widely.
In China, for example, foreign spirits and liquor may be considered appropriate, but personal gifts such as items of clothing will generally not be. In Italy, wrapped pastries, flowers or candy are appropriate gifts. However, flowers must always be in arrangements of even numbers and no gift must be given in a quantity of 17, as this is considered a highly unfavorable number.
6) Keep an Eye on Time
In most business situations, being on time is crucial. In France and Germany, for example, meetings begin in a very punctual fashion and being late even by a small amount of time can be considered offensive. In Argentina, business meetings may begin late. However, you will still want to arrive on time and wait, as this is considered polite.
7) Be Aware of Your Body
In some cultures, talking too loudly is considered offensive. This is the case in France and the UK, for example. In Finland, long silences are common in business contexts and you should not rush to fill the silence.
In some cultures, such as China, chewing gum, making grimaces or movements with your mouth or making large hand gestures may be considered odd. In Italy, however, large hand gestures are quite common and not out-of-place.
Many places also have specific body gestures associated with business cards. In China, for example, it’s customary to receive business cards with both hands and to treat them with great respect by placing them in a case (never a wallet). In Japan, a bow often accompanies the giving and receiving of business cards. If your body language with business cards has been casual up until now, you may need to learn a new approach.
All of us have gestures we may not be aware of, but it’s important to be conscious of them in a business setting. It can be a good idea to record yourself in business meetings and settings at home. Then, read about local cultures and look at the videos. Which gestures do you make which would be considered ill-advised in your target market? In Brazil, for example, people tend to have smaller personal space and you may offend if you step out of the way. If you tend to instinctively move back, this is something you will want to be aware of. While it can be a challenge to control instinct, it can also be important in an international setting.
Are You Ready to Succeed in International Business?
Business success, in any context, requires a great team. This is even more the case for an international venture, where local talent and understanding can help you bridge language and cultural differences.
If you’re looking for local talent around the globe, contact Quintessentially People
for all your international recruitment needs. We help find the local talent you need, no matter what local means to you. Be sure to follow us on Facebook
to learn more about us and about business.