The Importance of Being Prepared Before Conducting Business Transactions in Another Country
Expanding outside of the United States can be a huge opportunity for small businesses. In fact, a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicated that nearly 95% of the world’s consumers actually live outside the U.S. Yet, most business owners are unfamiliar with the customs and business landscape of other countries. Doing some homework before traveling to and engaging with foreign consumers could vastly improve the success of a new venture.
1. Do some research: Before ever stepping foot into a new country to sell a product or service, learn about the customs, values and behaviors. For some countries, it’s considered good manners to exchange business cards on the first meeting; in others, it’s not. Learn about the culture and what is/is not considered polite business behavior. If necessary, take a course or seminar on the culture of the country.
2. Plan an itinerary: When traveling, business people should take advantage of every second that they’re there. Create an itinerary that accounts for travel times and locations of every meeting. Also, check out the local transportation options ahead of time.
3. Bring and pay with local currency: Many places and/or transportation options only take cash. Have local currency on hand, and know the current exchange rates. If necessary, lock in exchange rates for future business deals if they fluctuate often. Also, always pay bills with local currencies. Trying to exchange an invoice into dollars may resort in over- or under-paying.
4. Learn the language: Most people will appreciate someone at least attempting the language. It shows respect for the people with whom business will be done. If someone doesn’t have time to learn the language ahead of time, then an interpreter should be used.
5. Check for travel/safety precautions: The United States government will release travel advisories for safety, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and the like. Check the travel advisories before leaving, and adjust plans as needed.
6. Use local resources: When signing a contract in another country, have a local attorney review it to ensure that it works with the country’s laws. Hire local contractors or employees when doing business. If assistance is needed with any of these tasks, a business person should use his network to help with local business etiquette and customs. Most people have contacts in other countries. If not, someone else in the network may have contacts there.
7. Other items to consider: Check the weather patterns for the time of year when travel will occur. While it might be in the middle of summer in the U.S., some countries may be experiencing winter or cooler temperatures. Also, ensure that all vaccinations have been received, especially if going to certain places known for disease outbreaks. Bring all prescription drugs, and figure out what types of food is served in the area, especially for those who suffer from allergies. Verify what can/can’t be brought into the country. If a business is planning on bringing samples, these products may not be allowed within the borders and may be confiscated. Ensure that all proper documentation is needed for goods, and that all required visas/passports for traveling and/or business are received.
Foreign markets offer a great opportunity to access the millions of customers around the world. Caution, however, must be taken to ensure that those with whom business is being done don’t get offended and to prevent other issues caused by lack of knowledge.