Top ten tips for doing business in Asia

Why Kiwis wanting to do business in Asia should play their cards close to their chest, partner with locals and never retire to their hotel before 10pm

The Asian region contains 4.4 billion people and accounts for six of New Zealand's current top 10 trading partners. Yet the route to Asia is strewn with Kiwi businesses who've tried – but failed – to take advantage of the potential. 

Andrew Sayers, current president of the Hong Kong New Zealand Business Association, says there are significant trade and investment opportunities yet to be explored in Asia, but New Zealand businesses need to put greater effort into understanding and engaging with their Asian counterparts.

“Cultural and values differences continue to present challenges for doing business in Asia, and can often be the tipping point when it comes to getting something off the ground locally or offshore.”

Here are Sayers' 10 practical tips for doing business in Asia

1) Always partner with locals, don't try to do everything yourself.
2) Get good advice from people who have done it before. Beware of so called ‘experts’ who say that they know everything and everyone but are as clueless as you about what locals are talking about. 
3) When it comes to business, Kiwis can often be transparent, revealing too much upfront. As the saying goes: ‘Play your cards close to your chest’ and don’t give away everything at once.
4) Asian business people will generally look to bargain with you. This approach is not a typical part of the Kiwi culture. Most New Zealanders will usually put their best deal on the table straight away – a tactic which will often work against them.
5) Keep communicating via emails, telephone calls, WeChat and face-to-face meetings. Most Asian investors will have forgotten you a year later after an initial meeting, if you keep general communication going you will become a familiar contact.
6) Do not expect to sign deals during the first visit. You've done well if you work out who the real boss is on the fifth visit (and quite often he or she won’t be the one dressed in a suit with two assistants at their side).
7) Ask for introductions. Access to senior business people is 10 times harder to achieve in Asia than it is in New Zealand. 
8) Focus on building deep connections with a small circle of contacts, rather than getting to know a large group of business people.
9) Be adaptable and open to changing your plans. Business in Asia is extremely fluid and very frustrating, as things will often not go your way. Keep in mind that the only constant is change. If you don't like surprises, Asia may not be the business ground for you.
10) Go hard or go home! Asian workers typically don't go to bed at 10 p.m. and neither should you, if you want to do business with them.

Andrew Sayers is the current president of the Hong Kong New Zealand Business Association and managing partner of accounting and business advisory firm Crowe Horwarth