Doing business in Asia can be rewarding if you follow a few basic principles.
The numbers are familiar to all of us: 48% of the global population resides within a day’s flight of where you are sitting now; the middle classes of China and India are soon to be larger than the population of the United States and have money to spend; and many central governments are willing and able to spend billions on developing infrastructure, including IT.
Of course, I am referring to the Asian region, stretching from Japan through to India and into Southeast Asia. It’s a place with overwhelming opportunity to do business and it’s in the neighbourhood, BUT (yes, a large but):
- It’s so hard because they don’t speak English
- Their currency is not convertible
- Their laws are not transparent
- There is too much corruption
- It takes too long to set up a company.
The list is long, and I hear most of the items more often than I can enumerate (and I dare say I have been guilty at times of using some of them as excuses). However, there is not one item on that list that cannot be dealt with and managed so there is an outcome that excites and encourages the entrepreneur that lies within most of us.
For the distributor looking to enlarge their geographic reach or the VAR looking to grow faster than the market, setting up appropriate-to-the market businesses in Asian countries can be lucrative and successful. Following are some suggestions based on my experience and observations:
- Do your homework about the country/region/city that you plan to enter. This means, learn about the country’s culture and history and people. It also means understanding the geography of the country, as this can have a huge bearing on your success. An example is the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The nation’s business tends to be focused in two cities: Seoul and Pusan. Because the cost of doing business is so high, your chances of success will be much higher if you focus on these two cities.
- Enlist the aid of people who have done business before in your country of choice. They can help you avoid some of their mistakes (and we all make them, no matter what stage we are at in our careers). This also means hiring trusted advisors in the accounting, legal and marketing professions. Do not cheat your company of future success by not spending on appropriate advice in these three critical areas. For instance, money spent up front to choose the correct legal entity and then register it for statutory accounting and tax purposes can save you plenty in the longer term.
- Be realistic in your start-up goals for the business. Taking on this challenge means having achievable goals that you and your new partners in the country agree are strategic and doable. Many companies make the mistake of assuming that local partners buy into any kind of behaviour to achieve the business’s financial goals, which is just not true. Japan, where I have spent 14 years, is littered with the corpses of companies that came with the idea that what worked in their home country would work just as well abroad.
- Have patience and persevere. Expanding your business internationally is not an overnight task, so take your time and don’t be deterred by the roadblocks that will undoubtedly confront you.
These suggestions barely scratch the surface. However, I hope they convey the idea that doing business in Asia can be an exciting and rewarding exercise, and the oft-quoted challenges are not insurmountable.