Running a business with overseas suppliers

1. Language

Brits are lucky enough that the majority of the world speaks their mother tongue. It is the international language, and there is no denying that in many places and situations, we could get by without a word of the local dialect. However, one should always learn a basic level of the language; it is polite, and you could have suppliers who don’t speak a word of English. This is especially so in large countries like France and Spain, where the language is widely spoken.

If your suppliers don’t speak any of the language, it is worth hiring a translator. You can get a virtual assistant, local to any area in the world, from $3 to $10 an hour from companies such as Elance.

2. Work culture and efficiency

Most of our business is with Spain, and it took us a long time to get used to the Spanish work culture. The work/leisure balance is different in Spain, so we?ve needed to adapt our correspondence with Spain-based suppliers to fit in with this, as well as get things done in the timely manner that our British customers expect.

This should be spelled out to the supplier. We tell them we need a response within 24 hours on any email or missed phone call. And in situations where this doesn’t happen, we will ring them hourly to get the answer we need. It may seem excessive, but sometimes it can take weeks to get a response. And soon enough the supplier realises that it is generally easier to respond immediately.

3. Get personal

Preferably at the beginning of a business relationship, you should make an effort to get to know the supplier face-to-face. This will make the email conversations further down the line so much easier, and you will be known as a person, not just an email address. It will also make any tight situations easier to deal with.

4. Learn

If you ever want to expand abroad, you are going to need to know the culture and the competitive landscape, and your supplier could have some great insight; chances are that they will supply to lots of similar companies, domestically and abroad. They should be your first port of call when looking abroad.

5. Someone on the ground

All of these tips will help businesses to a certain extent. However, if your liaisons with a particular country or area are one of the core requirements of your business, you really should consider having someone on the ground ? someone who speaks the language and understands the culture, who is well connected, and who will be able to act quickly if there is an emergency.

This is by no means the definitive list, but these practices have definitely helped us in our dealings overseas, and will also help you. Bonne chance!

Rob Tominey is co-founder of Mainstage Travel. Check out Mainstage Travel and follow Rob and his business partner Aden on @robtominey. 

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