International business, international culture

As your business expands internationally, cultural differences between America and your target country can have a critical effect on your business’s potential for success. We wrote earlier on the importance of hiring a translator when negotiating with partners who speak a different language. This time we will discuss learning the new culture and avoiding mistakes. 

A new culture is exciting to learn about but offers innumerable opportunities to “get it wrong.” Cultural taboos are often deeply rooted in family and religion, so reactions to a misstep may be visceral and strong. A country’s business culture can affect almost every aspect of your business, from negotiation styles to etiquette in meetings or at meals. Make sure to have your branding and marketing reviewed by someone from your target market to point out language or images that might offend or leave your company open to ridicule.

Take nothing for granted. George Bernard Shaw once remarked that, “England and the United States are two countries divided by a common language.” Even countries like the UK, Canada, or Australia have enough cultural differences to trip you up if you’re not careful.

Finding what you need

Given how important it is to learn these things about a new country, it’s fortunate that there are several avenues for doing so. They fall into two broad categories: professional training and self-directed study. 

Professional training

Many consulting firms provide training in the cultures and customs of other countries. This is the best sort of training if you have never lived or worked in the target country. These firms know the most important information to cover and the most common landmines of which to beware. Check the following before you sign up:

  • Does the trainer have recent experience in the target country, and not just the general region? If you’re about to do business in Japan or India, don’t work with a consultant who claims that they can teach you about “Asia”.
  • Does the trainer have experience doing the types of things that you expect to do in the target country? You need to learn different skills to negotiate a contract than you do to manage employees in the new country. If possible, look for experience in your actual business sector, be it software development, import/export, or manufacturing.
  • Do they offer the type(s) of training that you need? Some companies work only online; others offer in-person coaching. Some specialize in training teams, while others train individual managers and executives.
  • Ask for references and look for reviews. Make sure that the company you hire provides thorough, effective training in relevant skills that can be practiced and put to use.

Learning on your own

While we recommend hiring a professional trainer, cost may be a factor. If you are working on a tight budget, or you have lived in the target country and just need a refresher, you can find many resources online and in bookstores. Again, be sure to focus specifically on the target country. If possible, find resources that address the type of work you expect to do there. 

Don’t limit yourself to websites. Look for books on business culture in the new country as well. You can also find training videos on YouTube. Additionally, business colleges offer cultural training for many countries of interest. 

You can do this

While navigating a new culture can be tricky, it is critical for your business success. Take one or more avenues available to learn what you need to know as you expand across borders. While professional trainers offer the most complete information, there are plenty of free resources available.