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A Beginner’s Guide to Doing Business in Asia

A Beginner’s Guide to Doing Business in Asia

Doing business in Asia

When it comes to taking your business overseas, heading to Asia feels like a natural step in the right direction. As well as booming businesses and growing populations, the diversity of cultures and the proximity of so many different nations presents an opportunity to test new marketing strategies and discover new audiences for your products. Building key relationships for your Asian expansion is important if you want to succeed. In this post, we’re going to look at some simple things to keep in mind as you about how to do business in Asia.

Culture clashes and business etiquette: doing business in Asia

The first thing to remember is that as well as Asian culture being different than culture in the West, every country in Asia is different. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on tackling the Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets, and examining the cultural differences that will make life easier for you as you interact with businesspeople abroad.

Common cultural norms

As a general rule, respect is important in Asian business. Doing business in Asia means operating under their rules. Here are some simple tricks to getting by:

  • Business cards should be handed and received using two hands, holding the corners with the index fingers and thumbs of each hand.
  • You should examine someone’s business card when you receive it – one famous scene from American Psycho goes above and beyond the treatment of individual cards.
  • Introduce members of your group in order of rank in your business, highest to lowest – this is also how people will be seated at a dinner table.
  • Avoid eye contact – many Asian cultures find it disrespectful.
  • Don’t be afraid to shake hands: Asian businesspeople do not all bow, anymore.
  • Prepare for a long trip. Asian negotiations, as in all aspects of doing business in Asia, are about building relationships as much as they are about turning a profit.
  • Bring company documentation to explain your business and the key executives. Having this professionally translated and printed in advance will go a long way to helping your endeavours. Remember to bring one for everyone.

As well as all of that, remember to book any meetings at least a couple of weeks in advance, and show up on time – tardiness is a sign of disrespect in many Asian countries.

Keeping face and unconventional business relationships

A common idea in Asian culture is that of ‘keeping face’. Embarrassment is to be avoided if at all possible, especially if you are a delegate of a larger company. In some countries, the individual or group representing a firm for a deal can be seen as the whole company – if one person loses face, it reflects poorly on everyone.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Drinking is okay, and in some countries – like Japan – encouraged when getting to know the other party, but don’t become pass-out drunk.
  • Dress formally, but remember that in some cultures you may be required to kneel at a low table – don’t wear something restrictive. Women should never wear clothing that is cut too low, and skirts should not go above the knee.
  • Gift-giving is part of many Asian cultures. When doing business in Asia, it is worth planning ahead to give gifts and remember to include everyone you are due to meet from another company. Everyone should be treated relatively equally.
  • Asian countries do not go for the hard-sell. Build a relationship rather than making everything about the bottom line. It can be a slow process, but the long-term benefits are worthwhile.
  • When socialising in Asia, don’t talk about business matters. At the same time, don’t avoid them if your host brings them up. Both can cause you to lose face.

Generally, doing business in Asia is about respect. No matter the industry you work in, understanding how to remain respectful of the culture you’re entering is vital to your success.

Why do business in Asia?

There are three big reasons why you should consider doing business in Asia:

  • Location
  • Market stability
  • International interest

Put simply, gaining access to one Asian market makes it easier to expand into others by virtue of location. Understanding which is the best fit for your business is a good start and will allow you to grow from there.

With generally stable markets, particularly from industrial and technological countries like China, Japan and Korea, expansion into Asia is a safer bet than it might seem. This is made easier by a general interest in international investors.

How can we help?

We love working with our clients in Asia and want to help you expand into the East too. Check out our recent blog post on Chinese SEO, or get in touch to find the perfect solution to your digital marketing needs in Asia.