Six tips for doing business in Asia as an Australian startup

Whether you believe in the concept of the Asian Century or not, the fact is that many Asian nations are fast emerging as political and economic powerhouses – Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia all present Australian businesses with attractive, high-growth opportunities.

Because of our proximity to Asia, Australian business owners need to make themselves more ‘Asia-capable’, particularly as the Asian marketplace continues to present us with valuable opportunities.

This means we need to have an intimate understanding of the local culture and business etiquette, which closely intersect in Asia.

Here are some things I’ve learnt from expanding Appscore into the Asian market.

1. Have a local partner on the ground

A local partner will have greater insight into the market, and will be able to translate your ideas into workable solutions.

Bureaucracy can be hard enough to understand in your home country, and it can be even more overwhelming to make sense of when expanding your business overseas.

When Appscore made its first moves into the Asian market I ensured I had a knowledgeable team of local associates who could help me make sense of any red tape, as well as the non-economic factors such as religion and loyalty structures. Unlike in Australia, these can be a powerful influence over a business’s growth.

If you’re considering expanding into Asia, keep in mind that a large proportion of Australia’s international students are coming from Asia, which means we have a huge pool of talent to develop and tap into for their local knowledge.

When building your team overseas, be sure to reflect the diversity of the country in which you work – it will prove your cultural sensitivity.

2. Turn to local bodies for advice

Austrade isn’t your only go-to. Local bodies like Hong Kong’s InvestHK and Singapore’s Enterprise Development Board are available to advise on local practices as well as local regulations and customs.

3. Make the most of technology

I make the most of cloud technology to conduct much of Appscore’s overseas operations, which, coupled with my local partner, means I’m not required to fly over there that often.

There’s a belief that doing business in Asia – or anywhere overseas – is very expensive but we find that it’s possible to establish a solid presence without spending an unreasonable amount of money.

4. Research the society in which you plan to operate

What are their religious beliefs? What are their thoughts on social hierarchy? What are their family values like? What are their attitudes towards punctuality and time?

All of these factors will inform how you interact with your counterparts in Asia. Equipping yourself with this knowledge will help you to do business more comfortably.

5. Learn about saving face

In business situations, people in Asia tend to operate in an introverted manner. This means they might feel uncomfortable if placed in a situation where they’re required to give a yes or no answer.

Building trust with business partners in Asia takes time. In one-on-one situations, however, you might find it easier to have a more open and frank discussion.

6. Inform yourself of customs and traditions

As you build business relationships you might be asked to attend festivals or gatherings at associates’ homes.

Behaving correctly at these events is just as important as behaving professionally at a business meeting. Find out what gifts you’re expected to give, and if there are any customs you need to follow.

Competition in Asia is intense and business is fast-paced.

I faced a lot of scrutiny as I familiarised myself with the customs and traditions and learnt to adjust my tone of voice and even my body language.

You will need to prove your worthiness and ability to keep up with the rapid pace at which business is conducted, while still maintaining an air of courteousness and respect.

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