Seb Francis is one our VSU Ambassadors, and the Co-founder of Titus Learning. His company provides online learning solutions to schools all around the world. Having visited China numerous times over the past 2 years, and establishing an early foothold, he shares some of things he’s learnt about doing business in China. This is the second in our series of posts.
If you’re reading this after viewing the first post, then welcome back! I hope you found it useful and are one step closer to doing business in China. If you’re yet to view the first post you can find it here.
In this post we’ll assume you are ready to look at China more seriously. Let’s get cracking...
In China, the system of social networks and influential relationships that facilitate business and other dealings is called guanxi. Having visited China a number of times I now understand the importance of meeting people face to face, whether this is potential or current clients, partners, or suppliers. A lot of value is placed upon getting to know somebody, both in a personal and business sense. I’d recommend reading more about it to get a good understanding, and Wikipedia is as good a place as any!
Firstly you need to decide what the purpose of your visit is. At Titus we provide a software solution, so we didn’t need to worry about production in China, or even a distributor at first. We also work with the international school market, which meant there were a lot of English speakers at our disposal. If however you’re aiming at a Chinese customer base then one of your first steps will be looking for a suitable partner to help with sales, distribution, and possibly after-sales or support. The organisations mentioned in the first post (CBBC, DIT, etc.) will be able to help you here. Ideally the partner should have a proven track record taking a UK or overseas product to market in China. As they will most likely have a portfolio of products or services, you also want to ensure yours isn’t ‘lost in the noise’ and has something that truly makes it stand out.
The best way to establish your partnership? Get out and meet them.
Your time in China is precious, and therefore all meetings should be thoroughly qualified. Make sure to have calls before visiting, and lay out your intentions for meeting. The Chinese are very cautious not to cause offence or have you ‘lose face’ (read more here), therefore you need to carefully read the signs beforehand to ensure the meetings are worthwhile. Having said that, don’t be scared of meeting with a range of people in person to truly understand them.
When meeting with Chinese counterparts there are a number of social dos and don'ts. Getting to grips with these will put you a step ahead on your first visit to China and allow you to focus on the task at hand. As opposed to just listing these in the blog, I’ve copied a couple of links at the bottom of the post. For now I’ve decided to focus on some of the more practical tips for getting around China. These are things I’ve experienced first hand and have found super useful whilst I’ve been travelling.
- Chinese business cards (and how you pass them) - whilst this may feature on other lists, it’s worth noting again. It doesn’t cost much to get some business cards translated into Chinese, and these dual-sided cards will go a long way in China. When you swap cards you should do so with both hands and study the other person’s card before putting away.
- WeChat - if they’ve not heard of WeChat, they’re probably not Chinese! This is used by nearly everybody to communicate, pay for services, social networking, etc. It’s a great way to keep in touch with your Chinese contacts both when you’re in China or the UK.
- VPNs - you’ve heard of the Great Wall of China, but have you heard of the Great Firewall? At Titus we use Google for a lot of our services - mail, calendar, documents, CRM, etc - and we were absolutely stuck the first time we visited China. Google, along with many other sites is blocked, so get yourself setup with a VPN before you get out there to avoid any issues.
- Getting around - we were also naive enough to think we could jump in a taxi and get around with ease. Wrong. The language barrier is very real in China so you need the address of where you’re going written in Chinese. If you can’t get this directly from your contact or their website then the hotel will write it for you. You can also underestimate China’s size...it’s BIG… so give yourself plenty of wiggle room when going for meetings.
- Hotels - accommodation in China is relatively cheap, and because of that it’s often worth checking out club lounge access in hotels. For that bit extra it could be very worthwhile - they usually have faster wifi, coffee/drinks all day, and are a great spot for meeting current or potential clients, you also never know who you're going to bump into! The free beer and wine in the evening don’t hurt either!
- The lingo - I am by no means an expert when it comes to Mandarin, in fact, I’m pretty terrible! But I am learning bit by bit, and this is appreciated by your Chinese counterparts. Even the basic greetings will help you on your way. Depending who you’re meeting with, you may need to organise an interpreter to join you during your meetings.
- Schedule some downtime - after all, it's not everyday you get to go to China! Soak in some culture, eat some great street food, take in some shows/events, etc. It also gives you a good topic of conversation with your new contacts.
- And the list goes on…. There are plenty of other practical tips when doing business in China but hopefully these will help. Got a top tip yourself? Shout me out on Twitter (@sebfrancis1) as I’d love to hear it!
So I think we’ll wrap this one up. I hope it’s shown the importance of meeting in person when doing business in China, and a few pointers to help you whilst doing so. On the next post we’ll focus on getting your product/service ‘China-ready’, getting it to market, and servicing it thereafter.
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