Starting a business in a foreign country? This piece is a must read.
Venese of Your Entrepreneur Resources in this guestpost deep-dives into what it takes to start a business in a foreign country.
She shares the challenges she faced launching her company in Japan as a foreigner and the skillset she has had to rely on again and again.
You fantasise about moving to your dream country, starting a business that you have been eager to build and are excited with the idea of living the life you’ve always wanted.
It is more common than ever before for people to move and start a business in a foreign country. There is more support, more communities and more opportunities for people to move and work overseas.
This infographic shows the top destinations for expats in 2018 according to Expat Insider:
You may be thinking of starting a business in a foreign country, but you are unsure if it is right for you. You don’t know if you’re suited to be in a country so different from your own.
As someone that started my business in a foreign country, Japan, and running it for the past 4 years, I know the struggles.
When you get started on your journey, you start to realise that it is nothing like what you imagined.
There are difficulties, there are things you didn’t expect and you suddenly find yourself lost and confused.
There are challenges I faced in my journey building a business in a foreign country, and with some of these challenges, I’m still facing today.
Although every country is different, I want to share these challenges with you and show you the traits that business owners need to start and succeed in a foreign country.
Starting a business in a foreign country? Master these traits before you make your move
Being thick-skinned and seeing past the judgment is perhaps one of the biggest challenges I faced as someone starting a business in a foreign country.
While some countries have been welcoming foreigners to start their businesses for years and years, some haven’t. Some might not even have the right support system to help you set your business up.
With cultural difference and potential language barriers, you are bound to be different and judgement might come along the way.
Understanding cultural diversity and the business culture can make or break your business. There are differences and changes that you might not be comfortable with but that’s part of the beauty of starting a business in a foreign country.
When I was just starting with my business, I realised that the Japanese work culture is very different from what I’m used to.
Many companies in Japan have long working hours, strict schedules, long meetings where every tiny detail has to be unanimously agreed upon.
Even though I speak Japanese fluently, in the Japanese language, you would need to use “business Japanese” when communicating for work, one that you wouldn’t need to use in other situations.
The differences have put me in various uncomfortable situations, where I was judged and criticised, some subtly, some not so subtly.
It can be intimidating and upsetting but it is a challenge that a business owner in a foreign country could face. Don’t take these judgements personally.
If there is room for you to take these challenges to learn and grow, do so. Otherwise, understand that sometimes, you just need to be thick-skinned to look past them.
Willing to learn the local language
No matter if you need it for your business or not, you should be willing to learn the local language, even just the simple daily languages.
If the country that you’re going to start your business has large communities of people that can speak your language, it might seem unnecessary for you to learn.
However, learning the language could help you further connect and communicate with those around you and in your business ventures.
In my case, unlike other countries with large communities of bilingual immigrants, Japan doesn’t have any other common languages than the one and only.
Although English is used commonly for things like advertising and caution signs, the majority of people in Japan don’t understand more than the absolute basics.
People who don’t try to learn the local language can find themselves constantly frustrated at their incompetence of being able to be independent in the country.
If you want to truly dive into and immerse yourself in the culture, you need to learn the local language. Then will you be able to fully enjoy all it has to offer and allow your business to flourish.
Open to new opportunities
You might have a clear vision of what you want to do and what you want to achieve when moving and starting a business in a new country. Maybe you already have your business plan ready, with clear goals of where you want to take your business.
It’s important to know that new opportunities will come and chances are, you can’t anticipate them.
There won’t be a single website or a single book out there that can predict what it is like to start a business in a foreign country for you. That’s part of the beauty of starting a business in a foreign country.
Some of these opportunities might be shiny objects that will likely distract you from your goals but others might be ones that you should look into.
As a planner myself, I understand how it feels when things fall out of line and new things appear.
However, allow yourself to consider these new opportunities and when it is the right time and place, take the step into the unknown and take a chance. You might be surprised what the opportunity could lead to.
Follow the local rules
Every country has its rules. Not just legal rules but cultural rules and unspoken business rules. Understand the local rules and practise them in your daily life as well as your business.
This is important for both your personal life and your business life because if you are stubborn in your ways and not willing to adapt to the local rules, you will likely find it hard to start and maintain a business in the country.
In the country that you decide to run your business, you should try to honour the societal rules.
If you don’t know about the local rules or the rules when it comes to running a business in your country of choice, speak to local business owners. Research online and check online forums to better understand where you stand.
In Japan, Japanese people look down harshly on those who don’t follow the rules. It may be something as small as making a phone call on the metro.
While it’s a seemingly innocent chat, it’s frowned upon within Japanese society. A Japanese person would think someone who is using their phone on the train is loud, and it’s discouraged.
That being said, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world for a reason. The majority of people follow rules in Japan. More than that, they value the norm and will try their best to obey societal expectations.
As a foreigner, there are bound to be things you won’t understand when you move to Japan. Some everyday things seem so bizarre and have been deeply rooted in what is now known as the usual.
From ATMs charging you withdrawal fees to porn magazines being out in the open at convenience stores for anyone to see, there are a lot of questionable aspects about Japan.
The best thing for someone to do is to accept these changes in their daily lives and try to adapt to it as best as possible.
Instead, trying to understand why things are the way they are, is the best way to learn about Japanese culture. “When in Rome” after all.
It’s crucial to be open-minded in a lot of these situations as a lot of things will be shocking to you.
With the world being closer together and people having the ability to easily move to different countries, it is more and more common for people to start their businesses in foreign countries.
This leads to people moving all over the globe with big hopes. With hopes of exploring a new culture, starting a business in a different environment, or to live in your dream country of the world.
But like anything in life, starting a business in a foreign country has its setbacks. Even if you don’t fully understand everything about the culture, with patience and time, you will be able to bring your business to success.
Venese has been an entrepreneur since she was 19, running all kinds of offline and online businesses. She has made many mistakes along the way and now with Your Entrepreneur Resources, she wants to help entrepreneurs with their online business journeys, connecting them with the right mentors, resources and tools.