China is one of the best markets for the themed entertainment industry.  They have strategically moved forward in experimental design with the implementation high-quality theme park design, museum design, expos and mixed-use developments.  Although, doing creative business in China is challenging because of cultural barriers . 

What do the Chinese mean when they say “we like your work and we will contact you soon?”  Why do they always bargain?  “When are they going to sign the contract, it’s been months!”  In most cases, potential Chinese clients don’t intend to waste your time or money, it’s just that they don’t do business the same as we know it .   And believe it or not, as different as the Chinese are, more often than not, they have adapted their work style to try and meet you halfway .  To meet this crucial  market the rest of way, here are some guidelines to consider when pursuing or working on a project in China.

Ask yourself basic questions, such as:

  • What are my peers and competitors doing to go after this market?
  • Are there local resources that can provide what I am offering?
  • How competitive is my price ? 
  • Is there substantial demand for my services?
  • What is my specific target market?
  • How do I balance my short-term needs with my long-term goals ?


Getting the Job

1. A shift in mentality

Perhaps the biggest hurdle that one faces in entering a rapidly changing foreign market is that a lot of the knowledge and strategies that had been developed over many years in working in the industry may not apply.  This can be very frustrating and, therefore, it becomes all too easy to blame the client for their naiveté and for not doing things the “right” way.

To properly gauge the situation, however, one must take a hard look at their own approaches to see if perhaps their work processes should be adapted to most appropriately fulfill the needs and culture of the market. It’s critical to remember, more often than not, it is much easier to alter oneself than to try to force adaptation unto a potential client or market.

2. Be accessible.

One of the best ways to bridge the geographical and culture divide that exists between East and West is to be readily accessible to your potential (and current) Chinese clients and to do so on their terms. 

Look at your current marketing material and protocol in handling Chinese inquiries.  Can potential clients easily contact you?  Can they call someone who speaks Chinese or do you expect them to e-mail you in English via the email address on your website?  What seems simple to you may be viewed as a barrier to them.  Yes, you may have successfully conducted business in Japan, India, even Korea, and were able to do so effectively through corresponding via email in English.  But the reality is that when doing business in China, communication is much more effective through phone conversations in Chinese than through emails in English.  It is simply a function of the manner in which your potential clients prefer to communicate, and you can easily adapt to accommodate this.

3. Voicemail, email and texting

It may be frustrating, but many Chinese don’t like to use voicemail, or email (even though it’s printed on their business cards).  It’s common to have an important email you sent go unread or not replied for days .  When that occurs , the easiest way to get the information you need is to pick up the phone and call them (or better yet have someone that speaks Chinese call them if you don’t speak Chinese).

Don’t worry, your clients won’t be offended because it’s 9:00 at night.  A lot of Chinese business is conducted around dinner tables and through mobile phones.  And unlike Western business, where one refrains from calling in the evening or weekends, it’s not a big deal in China.

You also may be surprised at how much business is done via text messaging.  It’s not unusual to see suit-clad businessmen and women tapping on their mobile phones like American teenagers. They’re not typing an email, but exchanging a text message.  If you need a quick, simple response and are having a difficult time connecting to your client, next time you might want to try texting them .

This is not to say that email doesn’t play an important role in communication, as more and more people use email, especially the younger generation.  And, of course, emails are used quite a bit after the project starts for day-to-day correspondence and document transmission.

4. Getting It Right:  Accurate translation

Sounds simple, but are you sure your portfolio is properly translated or what you say in a presentation is accurately interpreted, so that the decision maker on the client side (who usually does not understand English) understands your message?  Normally , we all spend a lot of focus writing an intricate proposal or preparing a graphically beautiful package, but the only problem is  – it’s not in Chinese, or, even worse, it’s poorly translated by a translation company that has as much insight into your business as they do with insurance, or banking.  High quality translation or interpretation cannot be overestimated .  It’s worth the time to locate professional translators that have experience in working in your specific area of business, who understand what you do, who care enough to take the time and exert the effort to get things correct . 

5. Get A Guide

If you were to go scuba diving in new waters, chances are you’ll go with a guide.  What about navigating the waters of business in China?  Even if you have been there many times, it never hurts to have a local resource to help you guide through unfamiliar territory.  The sooner you acknowledge the barriers and get help, the sooner you are off to a more efficient and enjoyable journey. 

Hiring a guide allows you to focus on what you do best – your business – instead of worrying about how to hail a taxi or how to interpret broken English.   It is a small price to pay to engage a consultant who is versed in the Chinese business environment and understands its unique set of subtleties and underlying minutia.  Not only will this help you be more productive in your pursuit of qualified leads, but will also save you tons of time spent in pursuing “opportunities” that are really wild goose chases.  A knowledgeable representative can help you avoid potential clients just looking for free creative experimental design; will keep you away from participating in competitions in which you don’t stand a good chance to win; and can guard you from clients who just want to use your proposals as bargaining chips against your competition.