If you think my warnings about drop-shipping and choosing bad products are negative thinking, at least this is from experience and not prejudice. How about some of the common misconceptions foreign people have about Chinese people and business culture here?
When I talk to people living in Hong Kong - which is in practice part of greater China now, they frequently tell me how dangerous, dirty, poor, restricted, and backward "The Mainland" is. Well, I live here, and I don't think I'm being blindly patriotic when I say China is none of these things.
China is not dangerous: street crime is relatively low on a global scale and nobody has guns. In business, visiting China is not a difficult matter at all, and your personal safety is much less of an issue than it would be visiting the majority of European cities. Chinese businesses are not, on the whole, trying to cheat foreign clients: they are much more interested in long-term profit from solid ongoing buyer/supplier relations.
China is often seen as dirty and poor by those who only see the country through foreign media. Even a short tour of Shanghai, Beijing, or Shenzhen will leave no one in any doubt that China is already - at least in the urban areas - a highly developed market economy that is booming like nowhere else in the world.
Most businesspeople who visit China get a feeling that they are being 'left out' if they are not part of this economic revolution over here. Some people complain that China is the "Wild East" for its lack of regulation, but the mass of opportunities for smart entrepreneurs is irresistible.
Finally, I don't think China is restricted and backward in the way it is often portrayed. Foreign media focus on political and human rights issues, but within China people don't seem to have time to concentrate on negative thinking. Since almost all of the restrictions of a closed socialist economy have long since been brushed away, Chinese people are universally focused on making money and building private businesses. In this kind of climate you are not going to experience ideological resistance to your plans for importing business partnerships!
From an ecommerce point of view, Chinese people are becoming more and more outward-looking, and importing from China is only going to get easier from here. It's already possible to build successful import projects without ever visiting China or meeting your suppliers face-to-face. Doing business online, in a remote fashion with people you've never met, is quite un-Chinese, so who says Chinese thinking is stuck in the mud?
Some more cross-cultural words of wisdom from Rose
- Never get angry when dealing with Chinese people.
Many times you will want to because, yes, we can be quite annoying - sometimes on purpose. ;)
But if you lose your temper you will get nowhere. Never become rude in an email or abusive on the phone. That would be the end of your communications with that Chinese person, and in business you can't afford to go around insulting people, wherever you are.
- Chinese people don't always say what they're thinking.
In fact, we hardly ever say what we're thinking. Western people often stress out when dealing with Chinese because they think the Chinese people are lying to them or holding back the truth. But it's just a different cultural style of communication: not always getting all the information openly stated is just the normal style in China.
A brash style of "let's lay it on the line... let's not beat about the bush... let's cut to the chase... let's get straight to the point" etc that we hear from American business visitors unfortunately does not go down well in a Chinese communication style, where we prefer things more understated. Basic information sometimes takes a while to come out in the open.
- When negotiating prices you must aim for a non-confrontational style.
If you accuse people of trying to rip you off, or demand better prices for yourself, you are setting up a conflict feeling in the communication. It won't get a successful result, even if you are half joking trying to barter in a strong way.
The Chinese way is to suggest and offer concessions and variations and everything is presented as a possibility for consideration, not a set of demands. Make sure every deal you are discussing is a win-win situation.
- Don't enter negotiations in an arrogant-sounding way, or present yourself at the beginning of your relationship as bigger than you are. Boastfulness will just make your Chinese contacts suspicious of you.
- If you are polite, generous, helpful, and friendly when you deal with Chinese people, you will get much more than expected in return.