Business Culture: Navigating Global Cultural Differences

So you’re ready to take your business operations beyond the Canadian border. You’ve identified the region where you’d like to do business and you’re wondering where to go from here. The most important thing to do before you take the plunge is research. Deciding to do business in a different country means you have to understand all the nuances, along with the business, society, culture and values of the new country. Here’s what your research should include:

General Information

This can be a simple Google search. You’ll want to know all the basics such as climate, major cities, the political system, currency, foreign trade policies and tariffs, and their economic situation. You may also want to research any trends or recent news stories sweeping the nation. The point is to get up to speed on how your customers live and what is happening in the country.

Politics

An important factor in international business is whether or not a country is going through political uncertainty and if so, how it could affect your export plan. Try to get an understanding of the government in power. How much support do they give small businesses? Are they rumoured to be corrupt? Do they make it difficult for foreign companies to do business? If your research indicates that a country is risky to do business in, you should look elsewhere.

Target Audience

Try delving into the psyche of your target audience. How they live and behave in your current country could be very different than the country you are researching. Your competitors could be different too, so find out who they are and how they conduct business (their recent marketing, their prices and package design). From there, determine how your business will enter the market and a realistic market share prediction.

Cultural Norms

Every country has its own customs, values and norms, and it’s important to be sensitive to them. Some ways that business culture differs across countries are appropriate clothing, proper business card exchange and conversation topics to avoid. In Japan, for example, it is important to handle business cards with respect. When accepting a business card, study it and then put it somewhere safe – definitely not in your pocket!

By researching business culture aspects of your international business dealings, you are ensuring you are prepared to deal with all situations. Respecting cultural differences is paramount to your success in the global marketplace and can give you a distinct advantage.

Here are some great resources to get your research started:

  • NLOWE’s Export Consultant – Our Export Consultant on can help get you export-ready by offering first-hand experience, valuable contacts, and everything in between.
  • Provincial and Federal Government – There are many agencies and departments dedicated to helping you succeed. Contact the NLOWE Business Growth Advisor in your area for help finding the right contacts for you.
  • Experienced Exporters – Find someone who has done business in the country you’re interested in. This type of honest, unbiased information could be invaluable to your exporting initiatives.
  • The World Factbook – This is a great resource on the history, people, geography, communications and more, of different countries. www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
  • The Centre for Intercultural Learning – This resource is provided by the department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD). There are many different types of information available such as: making international projects work; country insights; and research and discussion papers. www.intercultures.ca
  • Executive Planet – This website helps you with practical items, such as guidelines for business dress, conversation and acceptable public conduct. It also provides a list of additional resources for each country listed. www.executiveplanet.com

There are many other resources to help prepare you for international business. Taking the time to learn as much as possible about your targeted country will start your exporting initiatives off on the right foot. NLOWE is here to help you every step of the way.

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