Thinking of taking your business to China? Here’s my advice

Nick Bell offers three pearls of wisdom after his experience launching business in China, for those planning to do the same.

NickBell_headshot_2mbDue to cultural and marketplace differences, launching a business overseas can prove to be quite the challenge. Not to say I had no idea what I was getting myself into when we launched WME in China, there’s just no way to prepare yourself for every potential obstacle.

Nonetheless, my eyes were really opened by the hurdles that eventuated, and the experience has proved invaluable to my more recent pursuits. Fast forward to the present day with hindsight on my side, I hope that my experiences can serve as a lesson for those planning to take on the Chinese market in the future. The experience has assisted me greatly, shaping the methodology that drives my overseas endeavours, and more specifically, my overseas relationships.

If you’re thinking about exporting or starting a business in China, here are three things I wish I’d known more about:

Invest in a professional translator

Networking takes on a whole new importance when building a brand from the ground up in an unfamiliar country. Different cultural, social and business rules must be learnt quickly, and language barriers can prove particularly difficult to manoeuvre.

Let me tell you, an English to Chinese pocket book isn’t the life-saver you imagined. My advice is to skip the frantic page turning and nasty paper cuts, and invest in a professional translator from day dot. They’ll not only be able to help with the language barrier, they’ll also be of assistance with any need-to-know formalities and rituals.

Cultivate strong, local relationships

I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of cultivating strong relationships with influential, local professionals. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, and while I don’t agree with this sentiment entirely, it does hold some merit. A translator will help you understand the language and everyday formalities. However, only someone with practical experience in the industry can properly prepare you for what it entails.

Furthermore, each time you make a connection with a local business professional you’re opening yourself up to an entirely new network. This is an invaluable commodity in a new marketplace, and one that should not be taken lightly.

Respect cultural differences

I could not have foreseen the differences in search engines, social media and professional interactions within the Australian and Chinese business landscapes. Some of the most basic exchanges are approached completely different. For example, cheques and account transfers are still widely preferred over credit card in China, something completely foreign to me. Thankfully, I was able to make connections with some of the local talent. Their professional guidance helped me to navigate the Chinese marketplace successfully and I still work closely with many of them today.

From the smallest to the larger dissimilarities, the knowledge I have now could have made for a much smoother transition. If you’re gearing up to take on the Chinese market, or likewise, another international arena, do your research, hire a translator, network with local professionals and experts, immerse yourself in the culture, nurture relationships, continue to grow your local business knowledge, and evolve in time with trends and fluctuations.

Ultimately, if you’re open to learning from those around you and soaking up every piece of knowledge that comes your way, you’re already halfway to attaining international success.



Nick Bell is founder and managing director of digital marketing agency WME. He is also co-founder of Appscore, a mobile-first digital agency.