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How to do business in Asia-Pacific

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The CEO of Astus gives her tips on how to adapt to the challenges of doing business abroad

With a central base in London and new offices in Singapore and Australia, Frances Dickens, co-founder and CEO of the UK’s biggest media barter company Astus, has plenty of experience in doing business abroad and offers her key advice

Adapt your business model to fit the market

Don’t make the mistake of developing a business model that works in your home country and assume it will travel abroad without the need for change – it won’t. You need to be sensitive and flexible to the needs and business etiquettes of your chosen market. When opening an office in Singapore, we adapted our barter model to ensure that it fitted in with the country’s business culture, which is a mix of traditional Asian values and ultra-modern business techniques.

Choose your starting point wisely

Look for countries which share similar cultures and laws to the UK. Aside from being Anglophone, Australia is very much like the UK in business and legal practices and has the benefit of having a lot of ex-pats who will talk to people here, know our work and reference it back. According to the UK government, there are more Brits in Australia than any other foreign country. Relationship-building is simply easier when you have culturally more in common and also saves on time and expense. It also helps that the country is in rude economic health and has actually enjoyed 22 years of uninterrupted business growth.

Start with countries which make entry easier for businesses. Singapore is often called the ABC of Asia or the introduction to Asia because it’s viewed as being relatively safe to take business there so it is often a good starting point. It’s ranked by The World Bank as the easiest country to start a new business and is currently the UK’s largest trade partner in South East Asia.

Be aware of challenges

Each territory comes with unique and often surprising challenges. From my experience with launching Astus in Singapore, there was an unusual challenge in that the unemployment rate is exceptionally low. Current estimations from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower mark unemployment at around 2%, compared to the UK’s 7%. As a country, it’s a fantastic position to be in but from a business perspective it means that fewer people are concerned about losing their jobs and staff retention can be a problem. When launching a new business, long-standing relationships are particularly important and not having that continuity can be an issue.

Hire the right people

Hiring the right people for the right job is essential in all walks of business – but for launching a company overseas, it’s crucial. Finding someone who has an understanding of media barter is very important and this is the hardest part of launching our business. Finding people with in-market expertise is easier. Trust is obviously another key issue. It’s unlikely that you will be able to be on the ground every step of the way so you must have real faith in the staff you’ve chosen to launch your business. Constant communication is essential when doing business abroad – both with clients and staff.

Have patience

Assume that things will take three times as long as you initially thought!

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