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6 Tips for working on projects in China

Published on Friday, 27 Feb 2015

What’s 1% of a billion people? 10 million. That’s the staggering number of the growing middle class within the Chinese population that has an extra flexible income to spare. This kind of math and money-making potential is what is sparking the curiosity and compelling the entrepreneurial spirit of many savvy western businessmen and women looking to earn their riches in China. Looking to enjoy a piece of the sizeable Chinese cash cow, western companies are quickly clamoring to do business with the big spender. However, despite the abundance of wealth to be spent in the China market, businesses struggle to thrive. Want to make money with the big red giant? Read our tips for working successfully on projects in China.

  1. Understand that China is not one giant emerging market. In fact, the people in China are made up of hundreds of different ethnic groups, each with their own language, culture, and personal flair. Creating a profile for a single Chinese market would be severely misguided and could potentially exclude millions of customers. Invention and flexibility will take you far when testing the waters for a new product. Break down your markets in China by region and you’ll start seeing better results with your business.
  2. Get familiar with the concept of saving face. Much of Chinese business practices revolve around the idea of social perception. Western businesses understand that the public image of a company is a great part of what makes a business succeed. The same holds true in China. However, this becomes exaggerated a bit for the Chinese. The culture has long held esteem, respect, and honour as qualities that extend into business practices, which can sometimes be unfamiliar terrain for western counterparts to successfully navigate. Keep your business prospects alive by simply giving respect to your clients. Treat them well, maintain a level of decorum with your interactions, and you will find a way to make your business transaction a success.
  3. Market your product specifically to the Chinese. Even if you have sold hundreds of thousands of products on your home turf, recognise that your goods might need some tweaking in order to get the Chinese buying. This does not necessarily mean you need to have a completely new product, but rather a new way of marketing your product so that it will appeal more to the Chinese market. A great example of market-based advertising would be Starbuck’s Green Tea Lattes. In a country of tea drinkers, this beverage was an effort to get more customers in the door by combining a product the consumers could easily recognise with one of their brand’s more popular items.
  4. Don’t aim for rapid success. As China’s wealth and middle class continues to grow, the market will inevitably change. For innovative entrepreneurs who would like to see success not just now but also in China’s future, slowly building a solid foundation is a must. Learning the cultural desires of today’s population might be time consuming, but it will pay off when your company’s products are widely marketable in the future when the potential for growth and a wider customer-base is at hand. Taking it slow will also allow you the time needed to establish a solid foundation as a strong and more easily recognised brand, something that spurs the Chinese into making purchases.
  5. Build a dream team. Surround yourself with the best local players you possibly can in order to succeed. Traveling to and from China is not exactly a viable option for business owners who want to see long term returns. Set up shop in your desired location and recruit talented local employees who are bilingual Mandarin and English speakers. Not only will they help your language skills, but also they’ll help to break down cultural barriers that might stand in your way of success.
  6. Get international experience. The successful American architect, Ben Wood, has seen some amazing success in China. What he realised by working with the local talent was that as young men, they had drive to pursue entrepreneurial feats, but lacked real world knowledge and experience. His advice for fledgling business owners with budding prospects to do international business is to travel. Work on making yourself more interesting. In doing so, he claims you will be able to find more interesting clients and more opportunities to grow your business.

It might not be overly simple for western entrepreneurs to break into the east’s most promising market, but these guidelines will help make it a bit easier for your business to succeed in China. The increasing potential for earning your riches in China is at hand, but it will take more than just setting up shop in area. Just remember, a good understanding of Chinese culture and business practices will help you define your company and marketing strategies in China. Coupled with patience and hard work, you and your business will be well on your way to success. 

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