In the first part of this mini-course I told you it's possible to get into importing from China without leaving home, thanks to the power of internet communications. But first I think it's important to talk about actually visiting China yourself, because this can really give you a head-start.
I know a lot of you are interested in visiting China on business, or already planning to, because of the responses we got for our Chinavasion Trade Fairs Tour in April 2006.
The advantages of visiting China in person
Chinese business culture is very person-focused. The better you know people, the better you will be able to do business. In fact, without some form of "relationship" you won't be able to do business at all. You can establish this kind of relationship by phone and email (and money!) but of course face-to-face is the fastest way to let suppliers get to know and trust you.
If you have visited China you will have much more credibility both with the Chinese suppliers you talk to, and with your domestic customers. It can also demonstrate that you're a serious importer, when it comes to talking to banks and customs brokers.
Even after visiting one time you will have the advantage of a realistic perspective on your suppliers and contacts. You will know more clearly what you can and can't expect from them. Your expectations about China in general will be more realistic.
For example, in China, if you don't like a dish in a restaurant, you can't simply send it back. The waiter and manager will probably argue with you and tell you it is fine!! It's the same in the shops -- you can't take back a piece of clothing after you bought it, just because you changed your mind.
We have good customer service in China, but we also believe strongly in "customer beware"! Now think about when you're importing from your supplier and you're much further away when you receive the goods. Will you expect them instantly to take back products you're dissatisfied with, and pay your refunds including your extra shipping costs? Maybe there will be no problem, with a good supplier, but at least with some background on China you will know what is normal and what is an 'unreasonable' request, in Chinese eyes.
Many of the products you'll see in China may be great, high quality, successful sellers in the Chinese domestic market… but possibly completely unknown in your country. You will get tons of new product ideas, even if you weren't originally looking for them
If you visit China, you are guaranteed to have a great time, and discover all sorts of cultural and culinary delights! And your business holiday will be tax-deductible!
Travelling to (and in) China is nowhere near as hard as it used to be. I haven't got the space to talk here about how best to visit China -- I think I will have to leave that to another article, but for the moment I'll pass on a few hints if you've no idea about this country:
Rose's top 8 tips for newcomer business visitors in China
Even if you have a good relationship on the phone / email with a company, don't expect them to arrange transport for you or pick you up from the airport. Organise your trip so you are self-sufficient as far as possible.
Taxi drivers in China definitely don't speak English -- sorry. If you are travelling anywhere get Chinese people to write down the address in Chinese. Sometimes this won't help either so you need to have the phone number of the people you're visiting so you can call them from the taxi and get them to speak to the driver.
If you are doing visits to companies, allow a lot of time for travel. The big cities in China are really big, with pretty congested roads, and you could spend over two hours travelling between two places in the city.
If you have never visited China before, you are likely to be impressed by the food. But it's not suitable for everyone, and the Chinese mealtimes might be different to what you're used to. Also, if your stomach isn't used to some foods, eating out China could make you feel un-satisfied if not ill. So bring snack food.
If you are a man and you are invited to dinner with Chinese business people, expect to drink a LOT. If you don't drink you should consider meeting people at other times of day.
Carry RMB (Chinese Yuan) cash, as your credit card won't be very useful outside of your hotel.
Ask a Chinese person to invent a Chinese name for you and have it printed on the other side of your business card. If you can get Chinese business address, job title, etc this will also look nice. Take plenty of business cards -- you will need them, as it's polite to hand over your card to every new business contact you speak to.
If you're visiting China, you should plan your trip to coincide with one of the major trade fairs. When you visit a trade fair, you will be able to meet so many potential suppliers all in one space, and they will be in "export mode" -- i.e. ready to speak to you in English, with marketing materials, and real product samples you can check out first hand.