One of the most enjoyable and simultaneously challenging parts about building a successful business today can be travel, especially international travel. Most businesses today, especially those in the digital field, try to take advantage of how small the world has become thanks to technology and the Internet. This could mean hiring overseas, serving clients abroad, and/or partnering with companies anywhere in the world. Here are six very important tips that will serve you well when doing business internationally:
Be patient: It is critical to understand and appreciate cultural differences when you are doing business in a foreign country. We are very adjusted to a blistering pace in digital business today, but when doing business overseas, you need to take extra time to earn trust, and learn the customs of others you with whom you are working. This approach will be deeply appreciated by senior executives and members of large organizations such as governments.
Socialize and enjoy: One of the best ways to earn trust and understand a foreign culture is to take the time to go to events with your foreign colleagues and associates. Not only will you meet other people that could open new doors, you will build a reputation in their community. Some example functions that I have attended over the years include wine tastings, government balls, and even extended visits to the countryside in some truly amazing places around the world. In the process I have learned an enormous amount about foreign culture, wine making and even outdoor survival! Not only has this been fun, but a great means of personal development, all while working towards building my business.
Respect customs and try new things: When getting to know people and earning their trust it can be a great sign of respect to learn about their culture, and try things your new colleagues share with you. This can be anything from the banal, to the outright thrilling and dangerous. Food and the way in which people dine is one good example. It would be discourteous to show up to a French restaurant in Paris and only be willing to eat a hamburger. For me, over the years I have eaten everything from Goulash to Fugu (a potentially poisonous fish served as a delicacy in parts of Japan), and in the process not only made some great colleagues, but also really enjoyed getting to know how things work in other parts of the world.
Reciprocate: Its a wise idea is to invite your colleagues from abroad back to your home city in the US and show them a good time on your turf and your dollar. Most people I have done business with abroad greatly appreciate other cultures, are accustomed to travel and have a heightened sense of how things work in other parts of the world. Give them a chance to get to know your culture, both locally and generally. You will find your hospitality and personal background will not be lost on them.
Stay in touch: Perhaps the simplest piece of advice is the best advice. Take advantage of how easy it is with modern technology (Hangouts/Skype) to stay in routine touch with your contacts abroad. As a digital enthusiast I strongly recommend using Google Hangouts and Google Voice for free (or very low cost) video and voice chat internationally. There are also excellent cloud based applications that make it very easy to integrate your business internationally as well, such as Tripit, Harvest and Box.com.
Travel well: There are many detailed tips you can find on the internet about how to travel long distances well. If you have had little experience on long haul flights it can make very big difference in your health, your timing and performance when you arrive at your destination. One specific piece of advice is to sign up for the Global Entry Program as soon as possible--this will save you many hours in lines over many trips. Your sleep patterns on flights are equally as important, especially if you are taking long trips for short periods of time.