I have just returned from Australia China Business Week in Shanghai and, having observed over 50 Australian companies pitching their capabilities to a wide range of potential Chinese investors over three days, including assisting many of them with preparation, documentation and managing their expectations, the following five golden rules should be helpful for everyone to follow in the future:
1. Use a professional translator
When visiting a company or Government department in China it is very common to be given a beautifully presented bilingual document, with details of the company, city or industry you are visiting, including colours, photos and images in an expensively produced brochure. In comparison, our own documentation is often shabby and, worst of all, in English only, with no Chinese translation. If you want some clues as to how to present your capabilities to a Chinese entrepreneur or business, take great notice into how they present their credentials to you!
Translating professional documents is not as simple as asking a bilingual member of staff or friend to do it for you. This is a very common mistake. It may get the job done quickly, painlessly and at no cost, but how would you like your business described in Chinese as striving to “succeed when the horse arrives” or your business operations and goals to be misconstrued?
Having your company profile and business cards professionally translated into Chinese will dramatically improve the quality of discussion and level of understanding in a meeting with Chinese investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders. It is a sure way to show that you are serious about your business potential and will make your company stand out as a leading and professional business. Don’t cut corners on this, use a professional translator!
2. Make friends first, do deals second
There’s a saying in China that you don’t talk business “until the third cup of tea!”. In other words, you build the relationship first and only then should you focus on the business deal. This can appear tiresome, long-winded and unnecessary, but it’s the way business is done in China and you ignore this at your peril. Make the time to get to know your potential business partners, talk about their country, teach them about your culture, extend the hand of friendship and tell them about your interests, hobbies and passions. When you’ve exhausted every possible topic of conversation, and when the timing feels right, offer to start talking business! You’ll get a better result this way.
3. Take your own interpreter
The process of facilitating and interpreting in a business meeting in a cross cultural environment with language barriers is an art as well as a science. Professional interpreters spend years perfecting their craft, a process of study, practice and observation. Not only do they need to be highly proficient in both languages, but they also need to learn the method of capturing the meaning, flavour and expression in the language, which is so much more than a simple translation of the actual words. Having your own interpreter who understands your business and objectives in depth will prevent any misunderstandings or cultural insensitivities.
Your hosts in China will often offer to provide an interpreter for a meeting which, at face value, seems generous, reasonable and practical, and will save you some money. This is a false economy. Your interpreter should be someone who knows you, who understands the meaning you are trying to convey, and is at all times representing your best interests (including providing feedback to you after the meeting on what might have been said by others). Always take your own interpreter!
4. Observe and embrace business etiquette
As an aspect of developing trusted Chinese business relationships, the importance of culture and etiquette should not be underestimated. If you have received or met with a Chinese delegation, you will most likely have received a Chinese gift. Giving gifts in Chinese business culture is a gesture of thanks and a sign of a willingness and dedication to forging a long term relationship. Consider taking a gift when you meet prospective clients or business partners – preferably something that has a strong meaning to you (from your local town, country, community or even family).
You should also embrace and even seek out opportunities to show your respect to your hosts, business partners and colleagues by observing popular Chinese business customs and etiquette. If you have been to a Chinese banquet you will have noticed that Chinese business people love to toast. Take the initiative and toast towards the success and the future of your relationship, to the inspiring person you have met, to opportunities and to health and happiness – it gives them “face” and shows an understanding and appreciation of their culture! (An interesting side note - when toasting, always try to clink your glass with theirs at a lower level – it is a sign of respect and acknowledges their importance and position).
5. Follow Up
When following up with key contacts and new relationships from a meeting or conference, it is important to send your follow up email in Chinese (just as when we receive emails in Chinese, they often go to our Spam folder, your English email may go to theirs!) and follow up with a phone call (preferably by a Chinese person) to ensure that it has been received safely. Don't assume that they will receive anything by email, or that a lack of response suggests they're not interested! You will need to work hard to develop a strong line of communication with them from a distance (which is why you need to plan to be on the ground in China regularly!). In addition, if you are sending a proposal, make sure this is also in Chinese, and is addressed directly to your contact (to avoid being given to an English-speaking junior in their company).
These are just five basic rules to consider when engaging with Chinese investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and Government officials. These small investments will make a world of difference to your reputation as a company and the future of your engagement with China.