The most important point about your first business trip abroad is to take it. No matter how good your in-country advisers are and how much you trust them, you can’t really get started with worldwide trade until you experience the setting for yourself.
Here are a few suggestions garnered from my 28 years and 2 million air miles to make your entry into the global marketplace easier:
Set reasonable expectations
Don’t expect to come home with a contract in hand. This is highly unlikely in most nations. Think of the first trip as more of a reconnaissance mission, learning the lay of the land and getting familiar with local culture and custom.
Keep your schedule flexible and don’t be rushed
Schedule at least 10 days in country to allow for jet lag and time to really indulge in your international education. Don’t book yourself solid so that you can’t adjust to local opportunities.
The very best business trips always have room for last minute schedule adjustments to take advantage of a serendipitous meeting.
Go to a trade show
Do your best to schedule your trip during a major trade show in your industry in the country you’ll be visiting.
There is no better way to get the pulse of the business climate and meet people interested in doing business with you. Better yet, many of those you meet in major cities may have local operations and be eager to give you a tour of their facilities.
Get business cards in the local language
For a small fee, most printers will print the back of your card with your contact information in the local language. Not only is this a courtesy to the people you meet, they’ll be more likely to remember you and stay in touch.
Do your homework in advance
Don’t read those “How To Do Business In” books. While they offer a brief overview of the country, they are rife with outdated information and lists of confusing rules to remember.
I suggest you read something by one of the great authors of the country you’re visiting. You also could try a book about the history of the last 100 years, for some perspective, or a biography of a great leader who has shaped the country.
Follow up relentlessly
You’ll meet plenty of people and perhaps make a few new friends. You’ll lose the value of these relationships, however, if you fail to follow up and maintain connections.
Start the same day as your first meeting — that evening you can write a friendly email that includes some personal details. These details demonstrate your interest in your new contact and help you remember them. If you wait until you return home, that stack of business cards will be a pleasant blur, not a list of helpful associates.
There has never been a better time to take the plunge and explore international markets, but to be a global player you need to start by taking that first trip and making the most of it.
David Iwinski Jr. is the managing director at Blue Water Growth. A global business consulting firm with extensive experience and expertise in Asia, Blue Water Growth services include merger and acquisition guidance, private capital solutions, product distribution, production outsourcing and a wide variety of business advisory services for its Western and Asian clients.