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Sometimes going out to dinner can bring us closer in our business relationships. Oftentimes, this social aspect is a critical part of doing business beyond the conference room discussions. But what are the unspoken rules of how to wine and dine with an international business partner?
For example, is it rude to drink the entire sake each time they come and fill it up again? Or is it rude not to finish your sake, taking only sips at a time? More than likely your international business partner won’t tell you their customs, so you’ll be stuck with your own judgement.
Fortunately, we’re here to help with the food and drink etiquette:
In Japan, they make sure your glass is filled with a drink so if you finish it, you will likely get another pour into your glass. To keep your wits, don’t drink the entire glass and keep it somewhat filled. After all, getting drunk is not a smart way to get acquainted with your new business partners. But, when it comes to food, Japanese people would be offended if you left food on the plate, suspecting you didn’t like it. They believe in cleaning their plate, so be conscious not to order more than you can consume! In China, on the other hand, it’s not good to clean your plate. It’s believed you didn’t get enough to eat.
In Korea, they say cheers with words translating to “bottoms up” and they really mean it. If you are the guest and a toast is given in your honor, you’re most likely expected to drink it all. There are underlying social hierarchies where the most senior person is responsible for pouring. Be considerate of respecting the elders and senior business associates, but try to pace yourself. If you don’t want to keep accepting the drinks, you may consider offering to pour for others.
Just because we, Japanese, Korean and Chinese people, are all “Asian,” doesn’t mean we have the same customs. Do your research before dining out with your international business partners.
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Commuter trains are so packed in Tokyo that people are almost on top of each other. In fact, they are so overcapacity that people are pushed into the train by the station itself. It’s a strange but everyday reality in Tokyo for many business people. And even though they are packed in shoulder to shoulder, they don’t acknowledge one another.
What’s interesting is when it comes time to meet another professional, having a good amount of personal space is very important. In Japan, people feel uncomfortable being hugged. They normally don’t shake hands, and prefer to stand at arm’s-length distance. If you take a step closer than that, you might make your business partner feel uncomfortable and you may be seen as unprofessional. So, a good tip is to respect the personal space and watch where you stand, especially for a first meeting.
A great way to connect without getting too personal is by giving a small gift. Gift giving is common way to warm up the relationship in Japan. Consider a small but thoughtful gift like something local to your business or home state. It’s not the price or value of the gift that counts, but rather the thought of choosing the gift that communicates your thoughtfulness.
When gift giving, be sensitive to the business your partner is in. Obviously, don’t give Starbucks coffee beans to a company who sells coffee beans, or golf balls to a golf ball manufacturer. In Japan, people even pay attention to the related companies or business partnerships, so they make sure not to give a gift that would come from a competitor brand.
We previously discussed how language barriers may be challenging for your international business communication, but these unspoken ways of communicating can help make a great first impression.
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Sometimes people speak literally, and other times you have to read between the lines to find the deeper meaning in someone’s communication – even when you speak their native tongue. The “Americanized” English dialect with its slang and hidden connotations in words can be tricky for someone who speaks English as a second language. You have to remember your international business partner is translating your words from their language of origin, so there could be some bumps in communication. The more you understand that, the better off you’ll be in conversation.
For example, here are a couple examples out of Japan:
Don’t take maybe as yes.
In Japan, people try to be polite - too polite even - so they may not want to offend you by saying no straight to your face. Instead, they may say, “We will consider it and get back with you,” or “Maybe, but we would need an internal assessment first.” Even if it feels like it could be a yes, don’t assume it is.
The easy English mistakes.
In English, if you ask, “Isn’t this true?” the answer you’ll get if it’s not true is, “No, it isn’t true.” But a Japanese person would instead answer, “Yes, it isn’t true.” They are accustomed to saying yes or no to the statement itself, implying that “yes” means “correct.” So in their mind, your statement about “it is not true” is correct, and they will respond, “Yes, it isn’t true.”
If you’re not sure you’re understanding your business partner’s English correctly, politely restate it back to them for clarification, or put it in writing to confirm. Communicating in English can be challenging, so let’s work on making things easy for those who speak English as their second language.
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When you walk into a conference room for a meeting, how do you choose where to sit when there isn’t assigned seating?
There is a bit of strategy involved when picking a seat in the conference room. Before you grab just any seat, you might want to think through the purpose of the meeting first. That goes for all meetings, but particularly for meetings with an international business partner.
In Japan, there is an etiquette to where you sit depending on who you are (your position, your involvement in the meeting, etc.). If you are the host, sit closer to the door; let your guests sit at the head of the table, which are the chairs furthest inside the room.
In certain meetings, sitting all the way inside may not be practical and convenient, so you let the most important guest sit in the center of the table.
Questions to consider:
What is the purpose of your meeting?
Are you planning to use the whiteboard or the monitor?
Who are the main players in the meeting?
Try not to scatter people around the table for no reason, but you can break with tradition if there is a good strategy behind it. Where you place yourself at the table and how you present yourself can be a move in your favor, so give it some consideration before your guests arrive.
You might want to study up on your guests before they arrive and understand their roles. The more you know before they enter the room, the better impression you and your business will make. And it’s not a bad idea to have seating assignments prepared ahead of time. After all, a good first impression can set the tone for a successful international business meeting.
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“Hey, how are you doing,” is an acceptable form of greeting often used between American business people alongside a handshake. But, if you think that’s an acceptable greeting for your international partner, think again.
In Japan, we don’t shake hands, but rather bow to greet each other. We bow like Americans shake hands. It’s hard to explain how to bow, but the thing to remember is if you rank lower than the person in front of you, you bow deeper.
Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to a professional greeting in Japan:
- With feet and legs together, stand up straight.
- Stand up to bow if you’re seated.
- Don’t stand in a higher place when you bow.
- Keep your hands out of pockets.
- Bow at about 45 degrees.
- Men, keep arms and hands to the side. Women, keep hands crossed in front.
Depending on the country, the proximity to each other may be important as well. If you’re unsure of what to do, the best advice I can give is to watch and learn. If you pay attention to the locals, you can pick up their techniques for a proper, professional greeting.
Even though most Japanese business people don’t expect you to know the formalities of their traditional greeting, it’s a wonderful way to show respect and charm your partner with a great first impression and act of respect.
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My background is Japanese, so sometimes I’m astonished at how casual people are in a meeting with new business prospects. Take the business card exchange, for example. The most often-talked about scenario by Japanese people is when Americans sit down in a meeting and throw their business cards across the conference table. I’ve had the experience many times where we all grab a seat and throw our cards to the other side saying, “Here you go!”
In Japan, throwing things to others is a sign of disrespect. You would never throw food or money at someone, so don’t throw your business card either. For Japanese professionals, it’s seen as degrading and demeaning to the other person.
In Japan, you always use both hands to hand yours out, and you also receive someone else’s card with both hands. The name on your card should face toward them when handing it over, so they can read it easily, instead of seeing it upside down.
In Korea, you hand your card over with one hand, but put your other hand on the elbow to be polite. You will see the same thing when Korean people pour a beer.
After you receive a business card, don’t just stuff it in your pocket. Place it nicely on the conference table if you are in a formal meeting. Place them in the order of the people sitting across from your table.
In Japan, we go a step further and place the card of the highest-ranking person on top of our business card holder, as if it is a futon cushion for his/her business card.
These simple gestures differ from casual American interaction, but they are seen as an act of respecting your business peer. So why not make the extra effort if it leaves a lasting, positive impression on a potential business partner or client?
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This month, we’re taking the discussion offline to talk about the importance of international business etiquette. If you do any international business, this is an important topic for you to follow, and every bit as important as your online marketing success.
Since I’m Japanese, I will cover Japan and other parts around the globe, but feel free to do more advanced research specific to a certain country because there’s a lot of info on the internet. I’m going to kick off the discussion with greetings and business cards.
If you are a professional, you should carry your business cards everywhere you go, but be aware of when and how to pass them out. Since the card itself contains your contact information, don’t give it out to just anyone. Treat it like an important piece of paper that goes to important business prospects and you will embed an impression of professionalism upon your peers.
Keep your cards in a spot where they won’t get bent or dirty. An unkempt business card could come off as a negative reflection of who you are, remember that. No coffee stains allowed. Keep them neat and tidy, potentially investing in a card holder.
How you present your business card to someone is also important, particularly across cultures. The American way is very informal and casual, and there aren’t any formalities attached to giving or receiving a business card, but in other countries it’s quite different. I’ll explain in detail in the next article, so stay tuned.
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Successful online marketing requires a full-circle strategy: setting goals, implementing strategies, and analyzing the data. Google analytics is a popular, free tool that shows you how well your marketing strategies are working for you, but there are more freebies out there to help boost your marketing efforts:
It’s wise to monitor customer reviews and whatever else people are writing about your business online, but you certainly don’t have all day to search it out. Google Alerts lets you set up automated monitoring for specific keywords, including your brand, website, whatever else you want it to search out. You can even customize source and language selections.
SEMrush gives you a website analytics overview, in comparison to your competitors’ sites, as well as the popular keywords for your site. The paid version will give you more, but the free version is a good start for evaluating your search engine marketing efforts.
and other Social Media Software Tools:
Since social media sites are such a prevalent part of our online marketing now, it’s good to know about free software options that can help build up your social media presence, reach your audience, and analyze the results. Some of our favorite services include Cyfe, Klear, Klout, and Keyhole.
Cyfe allows you to build your own custom dashboard with analytics across multiple platforms. You can add all of your social media accounts, web analytics, email, SEO, and PPC campaigns to one main dashboard. You can further breakdown your social media effectiveness by looking at engagement, clicks, content and more. This service is a great way to analyze your social media channels and figure out where you need help and where your accounts are thriving!
If you need more help with social media, check out these options too:
- Helps companies meet influencers that match their business needs.
- Get topics and suggestions on what to post based on your business.
- Track hashtags, accounts, keywords and mentions.
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We no longer sift through the encyclopedia for answers, nor do we flip through the dictionary. We don’t need these big books anymore because we can find all of that information online, and then some. We can search the ‘net. We can ask Alexa or Siri. We can seek out blogs and online forums for expert information on a particular topic.
Perhaps you should be the one who answers questions related to your business and becomes known as the expert in your industry. Have you ever gone to YouTube looking for a demonstration of how to do something, install something, fix something, learn something? What are the answers to common questions in your industry that you can publish for viewers or readers? This is a great way to grab free advertising, simply by sharing what you know and what you do online.
Think of your potential clients. Imagine some of the questions they might have for you. Then consider where that demographic is searching for the answers, and search for them yourself. Google those questions to see what answers come up, where the answers come from, and who’s answering them. In this simple scenario, you may find some good ideas on how to demonstrate your professional knowledge. You’ll probably see a mix of answers published on industry-specific forums (such as tripadvisor.com), blogs, videos, and general Q&A sites (such as quora.com).
Let’s say someone is seeking advice or examples for a home improvement project like designing a new bathroom, or building a modern patio. An online search might produce stunning visual examples from a website called Pinterest, where anyone can post their images. This would be a great opportunity for businesses in home improvement, remodeling, or landscaping to create an account and start sharing their work.
If your work produces visually appealing results, share your pictures and your knowledge on Pinterest, which is a popular and highly-ranked domain. Just make sure you clearly state your business information on each post, perhaps watermark images, so you can take credit for being the expert.
All of these marketing activities require your time and energy, but not your money. They’re creative ways to get your brand and your messaging out there without breaking the budget.
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Blogging is a free to inexpensive, yet very effective tool, for advertising your business online.
, our niche is web hosting and online marketing, so we use our blog to share industry knowledge with other small businesses looking to grow. After we publish a new post, we share it in our newsletter and on social media. In fact, we have years of previous blog posts filled with good advice for business owners.
We benefit from blogging too. Writing weekly blog posts draws consistent traffic to our website. Plus, all of our blog content to date is filled with keywords relevant to our business – a combo that helps to boost our search engine optimization (SEO).
Now that you can see how starting a blog is a win-win for you and your readers, how do you get started? Let’s explore a couple options:
1) Use a free service.
Our service, bloguru.com
, is one of a few free blog services. Wordpress.com and blogger.com are two more. Since all three are popular domains that already get a lot of traffic, using one of them will give your blog a boost in the search engines. For instance, hosting your blog on one of these domains will likely get it found in the search engines before a blog that you host on your own domain.
2) Build a custom blog on your website.
It’s totally understandable, however, if you want to host a blog on your website’s domain. It makes sense for brand cohesiveness, and the keyword-rich content can help build up your website’s SEO over time. But it will require more work to get it up and running. If you are not familiar with PHPs and MySQL, we suggest you seek a web hosting service which comes with a blog included in the cost. The answer might be using bloguru.com
in conjunction with our dreamersi.com
webtool, where the two can work together to host your site and your blog.
Wherever you choose to start your blog, be sure to post articles regularly. Neglected blogs won’t do your SEO ranking any good, nor will you be able to build up your readership and site traffic. We recommend a blog post a week, if not more, and then share it wherever you can.
- If you are a bloguru member, please login.
- If you are not a bloguru member, you may request a free account here: