The communication and collaboration that were once only possible for giant corporations have become easily accessible to small companies and even individual contractors. With so many reasons to engage in commerce overseas these days, it can be beneficial for modern companies of all sizes to take the time to consider how they should conduct business outside of the bounds of their own nation-state.
Whether you’re working on operational efficiency, developing leadership, or creating an international marketing strategy, if you or your company are conducting business of any sort across national borders, here are a few of the most important tips you should keep in mind. Some are specifically aimed towards actual business-related travel abroad, while others are applicable to companies that simply communicate and collaborate with international partners from the comfort of their own offices.
1. Do your research
It’s the responsibility of every professional to conduct research about a foreign location before they ever step foot on a plane or open up a video chat. Each country and region has its own distinct set of customs, which are often dramatically different to the culture and customs of the United States. If you’re looking to make a good impression, make sure you’re aware of the cultural norms, taboos, and traditions of a location before you open up a line of communication.
2. Behave with respect
Knowing exactly how to behave when interacting with someone from another country and culture can feel intimidating. You don’t want to appear rude, but at the same time, you don’t want to come across as insultingly pandering. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind throughout all of your international interactions is to focus on maintaining a respectful attitude towards both your overseas business partners and their culture. Avoid both belittling or highlighting differences between your cultures on a regular basis. Instead, approach all communications and interactions with an appropriate level of deference, respect, and open-mindedness.
3. Keep language barriers in mind
While the challenge of speaking different languages can be overcome by a translator or even a simple translation app, the struggle doesn’t stop there. It’s critically important to remember that languages function in different ways. Cultural phrases and idioms, in particular, can have a huge impact on international communication. Always be ready to carefully and respectfully explain something more than once when interacting with an international business partner.
4. Travel logistics
It’s never been easier to move around the world. But that doesn’t change the fact that you still need to do your homework beforehand if you don’t want to end up stranded at the airport or starving before your first meeting after you arrive. Make sure to consider the logistics of travel including things like:
Make sure you tend to passports and work visas whenever required. Japan, for instance, has two different visa options that require applicants to be backed by a company, provide proper documentation, and even pass a language exam.
A personal consideration that can be especially important for regular travel over long distances is the comfort of the commute itself. Try to take advantage of things like fast-track security, business class lounges, priority boarding, and other frequent-flyer tips and tricks that can allow you and your employees to arrive at their destination in fine form.
Make sure to decide beforehand if you’re going to rent a car or use taxi and rideshare options. If renting a car, research beforehand what you need to legally drive in the country you’ll be visiting.
Ensure your lodging has good reviews and remember to consider the distance it will take to get to business meetings.
Living expenses while traveling can add up very quickly! Also, look into how the currency will be exchanged.
You may need to get an international phone plan while abroad, or if it’s a short trip, you can simply try to use an app like WhatsApp for communication. You can also check with your phone provider to see if they offer international plans.
5. Non-travel logistics
Along with traveling concerns, there are plenty of logistical considerations to keep in mind whenever working with others outside of your own country. An obvious one is time zones. Hong Kong is a neat 12 hours ahead of New York City. Tokyo is 16 hours ahead of San Francisco. London is six hours ahead of Houston. In other words, always consider the time when you’re meeting, collaborating, or even simply waiting for a reply from an overseas partner.
Also keep in mind the possibility of purchasing internet business insurance. The possibility of data and security breaches are ever-present in the online world, and conducting business overseas, where governments and laws are often different, can make things that much more difficult to protect.
6. Have grace
Finally, remember that your overseas colleagues are in the same boat as you are. They’re dealing with a new culture as well, and are also facing challenges like communicating in another language and figuring out local customs. If you encounter a situation that comes across as offensive, remember to extend a measure of grace to your partner, as they may simply be acting from a cultural norm that comes as naturally to them as breathing.
Enjoying international business
It can feel intimidating to conduct business internationally, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you take the time to properly prepare beforehand, working with overseas business partners can not only go smoothly, it can also be both profitable and enjoyable. The synergy that comes from cross-cultural business can be a powerful boon to any company when it’s approached with respect and care from all of the participants involved.