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Top Ten Tips for Doing Business in China

Top Ten Tips for Doing Business in China

In February 2012, I was asked to move to Beijing to be international law firm, Minter Ellison’s first resident partner there.  My brief was, among other things, to develop and execute a strategy to lead the office to profitability; to target significant growth of office fee revenue; to increase referral revenue to all global offices from Chinese clients and to control costs.  Does that sound familiar?  It certainly did to the numerous ex-pats we got to know in Beijing and Shanghai across all industry sectors and across all business sizes.

I would never profess to be an expert on China or to claim that I had the secret of success.  However, I’d like to think that I had some success in business there and on a personal level my wife, children and I loved the experience.

So here are my top 10 tips for starting to do business, and more broadly to enjoying life, in China’s capital.

  1. Research business etiquette before you arrive
  2. Learn some basic geography, economics and statistics. Try and get your head around the scale of the market and markets you are entering
  3. Read up on the history and culture of China – it’s fascinating and crucial to get to a basic level of comprehension
  4. Be open minded at all times and never make Western style assumptions
  5. Learn the language – pick up some key words as quickly as you can and get a patient teacher
  6. Surround yourself with locals – on a business and personal level, mix as much and as quickly as possible with native Beijingers
  7. Talk to seasoned expats in yours and other industries. Our nearest neighbours worked at Deutsche Bank, Shell, Nokia and Unilever and they all had different but valuable insights
  8. Be patient. You need time in China.  Sometimes you will just have to take a deep breath and count to ten.
  9. Keep focused and have a coherent strategy and get buy in on it from all your stakeholders. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the opportunities in China.
  10. Leave the city regularly. This was the first advice my wife and I were given. We used to go to the Great Wall regularly. A great escape. As was the M&S in Hong Kong and the beaches in the Philippines….

And one more for luck – never say ‘no’ to the chicken’s feet or the baijiu!