International Business Travel: 6 Steps to Stay Ahead of Your Competitors
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International Business Travel: 6 Steps to Stay Ahead of Your Competitors

“In a time when electronic devices do much of our communicating for us, there’s something to be said for face-to-face interaction. That’s why trade missions are so important… If you don’t understand your buyers, you don’t understand their needs or how you can fulfill them.” – Steve Thompson, MLA for Kelowna-Mission

International business trips allow you to investigate new markets and business opportunities in an organized and efficient way, however, they will also be challenging on several fronts. To alleviate some of the stress, and to maximize your time and energy, it’s time to plan.

At Small Business BC, we love market research and preparing for a trip is no exception. Here are six key things to research and do before you pack your bags:

1. Technology and Cash

Two fundamentals of any trip that you cannot escape. But do you know what will work at your destination?

  • Research: Does the country use 110V or 220V outlets? Will you need to purchase these when you arrive? Will Canadian debit or credit cards still work? What about communication via cell, Skype, Facebook or Twitter? Depending on your destination, Skype and some social media sites might be inaccessible.
  • Action: Buy an electrical adaptor while still in Canada. Talk to your bank and let them know you’ll be travelling internationally. Buy a SIM card at the destination airport and don’t leave the store until it is working.

2. Business Climate

Find out if Canada has a trade agreement with the country you’re visiting. Is Canada a political friend and ally with them at the moment?

  • Research: Read the news both in Canada and the online papers of your destination to understand current issues.
  • Action: Be Canadian! Be polite! Like with any new relationship avoid hot-button issues in conversation. If the subject is brought up by your contact, try to change the subject – especially during your first trip.

3. Business Culture

Does the country you’re visiting have a “hurry up and wait” or a “step by step, let’s get to know each other first” speed? Do they like to shake hands or are you expected to bow?

  • Research: Utilize Hofstede’s Country Comparison Culture tool and compare Canada with your destination. Is the country as individualistic as Canada, and think in terms of “I”, or are they geared to the group, and more “we” focused? If you’re heading to the African continent, many countries there have a collectivistic society, where loyalty to the tightly-knit group is of utmost importance and will be taken into consideration for any major decisions.
  • Action: Be ready and able to handle both the calm and chaos, be sensitive about how you deal with problems, and always lead with the positive. In collectivistic societies realize that you are dealing with an extended group, many of which you will not meet, and be aware of how your business relationship may have far reaching effects.

4. Lifestyle

Are you a vegetarian heading to Brazil, one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of beef? You need social skills to handle these situations in addition to a jar of peanut butter!

  • Research: Learn about dress and eating habits. Find out if there are special safety precautions. Check the weather and visit the federal Travelling Abroad website – Travel.gc.ca
  • Action: Pack granola bars and instant oatmeal for breakfast, drink two litres of water a day, walk and exercise whenever you can, and take a CO2 blocking mask if the air quality will be a problem. Women should also take a large scarf for warmth and modesty.

5. The Mix of Business and Pleasure

Will you be dropped off at your hotel each night as your counterparts go home to their families, or will you be out eating, socializing and ending up at a karaoke bar until 1:00am?

  • Research: Browse travel sites and LinkedIn forums on doing business in that country. You’ll soon see some patterns.
  • Action: Be prepared to sing, dance, or share family photos at dinners. Have an internationally popular song ready to sing in case of karaoke. Bonus points if it is a Canadian artist or one from the country you’re visiting.

6. Who is on your Team Canada?

Prime Minister Harper just announced the opening of four new trade offices in China, bringing the total in the country to 15, and joining the other 159 globally. In a press release, earlier this month, he said, “The four new trade offices announced today will help match local needs with world-class Canadian goods and services.” So take his lead and let them help you.

  • Research: Since you already contacted the Canadian federal and provincial offices when deciding to go abroad…
  • Action: Now is the time to email them with your travel dates and make plans to meet them. Even better, see how they can help you with the research topics above.

Want to find out more about taking your business global? Make an appointment with one of our Trade Advisors today by calling 604-775-5525.

Allison BOULTON

About Allison Boulton

Allison Boulton has her own international consulting firm, and is the Program Manager of the Export Navigator Program.

After living in China and the Middle East for three years, Allison returned to Vancouver to work as an International Trade Advisor with Small Business BC, and started her own firm assisting entrepreneurs grow globally. While abroad, she completed her MBA and worked as the China Director of Marketing and Trade Sales with an importer and distributor of North American beverages. Prior to moving overseas, Allison was the Director of Operations for a boutique Canadian winery with exports to over 20 countries.

Her enthusiasm for travel and for understanding how people live around the world has led her to explore over 30 countries. She uses this experience to help clients understand, not only the regulations of international trade, but also the country's cultural differences that are so vital for businesses looking to succeed in the global marketplace.