Business etiquette: 10 tips for trading overseas

Global firms such as Expertmarket.co.uk share advice for trading in some of the world’s top enterprise hot spots…

Trading overseas can be a daunting prospect, not least because of the cultural differences and language barriers.

To celebrate Global Entrepreneurship week, international companies and brands have come together to share their cultural insights and advice for doing business in five of the biggest overseas markets; America, France, South Africa, Canada and Singapore.

From different time zones to long working hours and relaxed decision processes, read on to find out their 10 top tips for international business etiquette…

America

Each of us probably has a good idea of what to expect when doing business in the USA. Thanks to Hollywood films such as Wolf of Wall Street and countless TV dramas, you could be forgiven for assuming you know exactly what American boardrooms are like, but there are some things to think about when working with the US, says Kester Hodgson of expertmarket.us:

Tip One: “Always tell the customer you want their business – sales people in America wrote the book, sometimes a clever sales pitch isn’t what’s needed. Also, teach your customer something relevant to their business, in doing so you frame yourself and company as experts.”

Tip Two: “It may seem unusual to us, but in America it’s not subservient to address peers or senior staff as ‘Sir’, in fact it’s the norm.”

Word of warning: “Be aware of the time zones – there are four!”

South Africa

Doing business with South Africa requires understanding its cultural heritage, but a bit of homework can go a long way, notes Trilby Ranja of approvedindex.co.uk:

Tip One: “South Africa has 11 official languages and massive cultural diversity. They are a friendly nation and everyone speaks English, but bear in mind that you are likely to be dealing with many unique individuals from differing backgrounds, and to treat that with respect. Maybe learn a couple of key phrases in Zulu to knock their socks off.”

Tip Two: “South African processes are not as fast as in the UK. Things can take a little bit longer and people take a more laid back approach. Go into your business dealings with some patience, as red tape can hold things up.”

Word of warning: “South Africans have a deep love of sport and take it very seriously. Their arch enemies on the sports field are the Aussies and although they lose with dignity, it’s best not to fuel the fire by insulting their team or supporting their enemies!”

France

The French have a reputation for impeccable dressing and long working lunches, but there are other considerations when dealing with our French counterparts says Lucille Michaut of expertmarket.fr:

Tip One: “French management systems are not as flat as the UK so it is important for companies to acknowledge that the person they are liaising with might not have the appropriate powers to sign tasks off. Bear this in mind when working towards tight deadlines.”

Tip Two: “Most French companies do not operate a 9 – 5 working hours policy and quite often employees stay longer. It is not unusual to have meetings at the end of the day. This is offset against ample holiday allowance throughout the year so they still get a social life!”

Word of warning: “Learning a few basic French phrases will go a long way with your French colleagues, but avoid pointing out their grammatical mistakes or the use of any wrong English words – they can be very sensitive about it!”

Singapore

A growing market for UK business at the moment, Singapore offers great connections and a network of expats already working there. Ben Tyrell has just set up a new branch of MoveHub.com in Singapore and warns that what’s good for business is not necessarily good for your figure:

Tip One: “In Singapore timeliness for meetings is hugely important, and the etiquette is always to call ahead if you are running even a few minutes late. It is seen as massively disrespectful to keep people waiting.”

Tip Two: “Working hours are long and work often drifts into social hours, business dinners are common and often long!”

Word of warning: “All these meetings can affect your waistline, but don’t worry if your office colleagues point that out – it is a compliment to be seen to be getting fat, as it means your wealth must be growing in line with your waist line. Try not to be offended when co-workers point it out.”

Canada

Though close neighbours to the US, Canadians have a very different attitude to business etiquette. More cautious than their American neighbours, be sure to demonstrate to your Canadian colleagues that you’re a trusted and reliable company to do business with, says Ian Wright of Expertmarket.co.uk:

Tip One: “Canadians tend to be a lot more conservative in business as can be seen from the 2008 financial crisis where no Canadian Bank needed to be bailed out by public funds. Pushing a hard sale for a high risk deal is unlikely to come to fruition.”

Tip Two: “Canada is a bilingual country so it’s important for companies to be aware of the cultural differences between English and French speaking Canadians, particularly when marketing new products.”

Word of warning: “There is one key thing to remember when doing business with Canadians; they are not American. Despite the accents being somewhat similar, Canadians are very proud of their heritage and take great offence at being confused with their continental neighbours.”

Expertmarket.co.uk is a business to business marketplace for products and services such as merchant accounts and telephone systems.

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