Grace Zhao is the founder of China Unbound, an organisation specifically focused on helping SMEs build practical knowledge and contacts to do business with China through regular talks, informal networking events and business training. Grace is originally from Guangzhou and now lives in London.
Earlier this month, China Unbound invited Jonathan Pfahl, MD of the Chinese-investor- backed business incubator Rockstar Hubs, to share his experience of taking the first steps into the Chinese market.
His top 5 tips were:
1) Relationships – it takes time to build relationships and it’s more the case when doing business with Chinese people. Invest time in building the relationships before you expect the return. This means patience and taking a long term view of your business development effort in China.
2) Learn the language – as a foreigner learning Chinese, it will be a (long) while before I can conduct business in Mandarin, but when you are able to say a few simple words in Chinese, they are very impressed, and it really helps to break the ice. It also shows your respect and commitment to the relationship. It goes a long way.
3) Put yourself in their shoes, online & offline – China is not short of products. What makes your business special that they would want to partner with, or do business with you? Think about how you can give them something unique that can help them stand out from their competitors.
Likewise, in the online environment, if you are inviting someone to connect on LinkedIn, put yourself in their shoes. Study their LinkedIn profiles. Ask yourself if you are that person and you are the MD of that company, what would the invitation need to say for you the press the ‘Accept’ button?
It’s also important to clarify and ask probing questions if you are not sure what they mean in meetings and email communications etc. to avoid misunderstandings.
4) Celebrity / British brand association or endorsement – Rockstar Hubs has the endorsement of the Mayor of London, and we found that it has helped us tremendously in opening doors with potential partners and customers. Think about if there is a way you can associate your brand with a British brand or celebrity known by the Chinese.
5) Persistence and timing – We found that early notice goes into the bin when it comes to inviting people to events in China! If you give people 3-4 weeks of notice like we do in the UK, people don’t seem to respond much to it.
Timing, therefore is everything. We found that when we tell them just a few days in advance, magically, the Chinese seems to find time for it!
China Unbound runs monthly talks and informal networking events to help SMEs build practical knowledge and contacts to do business with China.