Advice on Import-Export Opportunities in China

Chinese business people shaking hands
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Who wouldn't want to import from or export to a country populating more than 1.3 billion people? China offers extraordinary growth opportunities both from the consumer demand to supplier side.

But how does one do business in a country so vast and complex?

Tips for Conducting an Import or Export Business in China

Many years ago I interviewed China strategist Dr. Tamara Monosoff, who now operates Mom Inventors, Inc., a Walnut Creek, California-based company.

She shared these insights that still apply to conducting business in China:

  • Know the market. There are tremendous business opportunities in China, but don't assume that Chinese buyers aren't looking at other options.
  • Use Hong Kong as your base to enter China. The most notable advantages of using Hong Kong as a starting point into China are: the availability of a reliable legal and financial infrastructure; a flat tax rate; the ease of establishing a business entity; and experienced local tri-lingual (English, Mandarin, Cantonese) executives and consultants that can be hired.
  • Learn about Chinese culture. American and Chinese negotiation styles are dramatically different. Properly handing your business card (with two hands) and using a Mandarin or Cantonese greeting will go a long way toward showing and earning respect.
  • Leverage an existing relationship. Work with a company who already has a Chinese presence; however, be aware that international marketing partnerships are only effective in Asia when you build relationships and work directly with your partner's local staff.
  • Assist your family of companies. Many Chinese companies would like to enter the American market. If you can come up with a way to assist them, they may be more willing to bring you into their network. The person with the best 'guanxi' (personal connections) thrives.

Chinese-born Di Wu-Hlawek, graduate of Harvard Business School, offered the following about doing business in China:

  • Take care of the people who make introductions. Maybe someday you will help them out. Or, if you can justify paying a referral fee up front, mention it. They may say no, no, no. If you think it's a good idea to thank them in such a way, insist on it. Chinese are not as straightforward as Americans are -- no doesn't mean definitely no. Two Chinese can carry on the insisting and refusing game for a long time before one party gives up.
  • Bend the rules while sticking your neck out. Most rules can be bent for special situations for special people. If one is persistent, has endurance and is patient, one is more likely to affect the outcome.
  • Slow your pace. Meetings with potential partners over lunch and dinner are also occasions to recognize the slower pace of Chinese business. Meals in China are usually longer than what foreigners are accustomed to. Be patient and flexible.The time spent with people is a worthwhile investment that will pay off in the future.
  • Be courteous. Courtesy and discretion are paramount. No Chinese would be eager to deal with people -- whether online or offline -- who do not respect their way of living and conducting business. Also, be careful with your opinions on politics and government. The Chinese may not want to share with you what they really think about the government policies unless they are very close friends of yours.
  • Create desirability. Building a large and profitable presence in China requires top-quality products that are affordable to the masses. Creating desirability is an absolute must. You have to get to know your customer in order to determine which of your products offer the greatest consumer appeal and fit best with the local culture.

Doing business in China is no walk in the park but if you work hard to satisfy the Chinese, your efforts will be rewarded with the acquisition of a powerful, lifelong trading partner.