In introducing East Asia, I can’t really put it any better than the beginning of the Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_East_Asia): “The economy of East Asia is one of the most successful regional economies of the world. It is home of some of the world’s largest and most prosperous economies: China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.” The World Bank has also stated that East Asia remains one of the main growth drivers of the world economy (http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/eap/publication/east-asia-pacific-economic-update), and it is expected to continue with a growth rate of 6-7%, even amidst the downturn everywhere else in the world.
So what does this mean for you? If you are not in East Asia, you might think “Well, great for them, but I need to get back to work now”. The fact is, however, that thanks to this growth, many businesses in East Asia are looking for partners abroad and for ways to expand. Anything from a full time business partner, to a joint venture, to a client or even just a presence in a local chamber of commerce can be attractive. And these aren’t Fortune 500 businesses: the big businesses, with the famous names, already have partners. However, the small and medium sized companies are the ones that can have huge potential for you.
The fact that they are ten thousand miles away shouldn’t deter you either. It’s not exactly the same as meeting a business down the road, but you’ll soon find that distance, culture and yes, even language, are all obstacles that can be surmounted pretty easily.
This article deals with people who would like to expand to East Asia in some form or another. Another article will follow that deals with selling to prospects in Asia, if that is what you are interested in.
- Get your name out there. You never know. The idea of a business partner/client/vendor/contact in North America, Europe, etc. is always interesting. Most of East Asia as a region has been undergoing a lot of growth, even in the midst of the global downturn, and many people have a keen eye for a potential partner. And getting your name out there can just be a question of writing up a press release, or a translation of your brochure or About Us page, and posting it in various LinkedIn groups, bulletin boards, Alibaba, or just emailing them out to prospects.
- Don’t rush into things. Many people (I’m looking at you, North America) love to rush into a potentially lucrative business deal. People in East Asia are more like Southern Europe in this sense. They prefer to get to know someone a bit better before proceeding. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should travel to Asia to meet with a prospect before you have any real business, but it does mean that you can feel free to have a Skype conference rather than a series of emails. Also feel free to add them on social networks (like LinkedIn). In fact, if they are on Wechat (a Chinese social network), Kakaotalk (a Korean social network), or Line (a Japanese social network also used quite a bit in Taiwan), then feel free to ask them about it and add them on it. These will not make you best buddies, but they will go quite a ways in making them trust you more.
- What is the language situation? English is usually the lingua franca for international business, and Asia is no exception, even with China’s rise. However, you may want to take note of whom you are in contact with. It is the decision maker? Or is it the person who speaks the best English and is then relaying everything to his/her boss? Neither situation is bad, but it is good to keep this in mind.
Also, why not go the extra step? Do you have someone in your company who speaks their language? Why not put them in touch? Or else, hire someone to translate some of your information, like your website and brochures. These steps are always appreciated and are great in terms of goodwill.
- If things progress well, you may want to visit them in person. To be clear, a personal trip to Asia is by no means a requirement for doing business and partnering up with someone in Asia, but if it is in the cards, why not? This can also present a tremendous opportunity, because this business partner can become your contact in that part of the world. Some of you may have heard of the Chinese word “guanxi”, which, loosely translated, means relationship. Guanxi has always been an important concept when doing business in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but other parts of Asia have their versions as well. And if you have a contact who does business with you and whom you can trust, they can be great leads to other clients and prospects (just let them understand they will always be your most important contact).
Understand: Different parts of Asia have very different histories. But they are all quite used to outsiders trying to take advantage of them, so establishing trust is a big point. Showing you are an established business helps (don’t tell them you’re a serial entrepreneur), as well as sharing personal information (I don’t mean your social security number, but things like your Facebook page or interesting articles that might tie into what you have discussed with them, as a friend might do, etc.). Also, showing commitment is always a good move. So, things like translating your material in their language, or having a translator or an interpreter handy can go a long way in establishing a long-term relationship.