The decision to create our own start-up wasn’t an easy one. After working in China for several years, we started craving for more freedom and flexibilities in our tasks that most companies couldn’t offer. What we wished we knew before embarking on this journey was how long the process was going to be. We had this dream with all these ideas, but we never thought how psychologically ready we needed to be for this experience. China, being a booming market, is full of business opportunities and people are starting to get more and more attracted to that gold mine. And so were we.We came across challenges that allowed us to compile ten advices that we would recommend you to keep in mind if you want to create your business in China.
Having the idea is one thing, but before starting anything, it’s important to do your homework. Research about potential competitors, what do they do, what do they offer, and most importantly how can you make yourself stand out from the pack. If your business concept has already been done by many others, then it would be a good time to re-think your strategy and adapt yourself to be one of a kind. Uniqueness is key. It would also be interesting to talk to some people who have start-ups in China, getting advices from them, asking them what made them succeed or what failures did they encounter along the way. Not only this will help you have a better idea and understanding about the Chinese process, but it will also allow you to start building connections.Get to know the different cities in China so you can choose your own and then find an actual office which will be more than mandatory to register your business later. In our case, we decided on Shanghai because we have been working there for some years and already established a network. So the choice was quite obvious for us.What you also need to know is that China is a particular country, it doesn’t necessarily have a « start-up visa », and if you are a foreigner, like us, then you will need to understand the different visa options that can work for you. Some goes through the student visa by applying to Chinese courses, which not only is a smart way to get around the visa issue, but speaking the language can be extremely useful for your future partnerships and clients communication. There is also the possibility to accumulate a specific number of tourist visas while your business gets registered. For us, we had to really rush the registration before the end of our previous working visa, so we could apply for a new one through our own start-up.
The biggest lesson we learnt from our experience was that the main key is to understand the Chinese market and your customers’ behaviors. Because we first lived in Shanghai and Beijing for a certain amount of time, we understood the culture and the way people worked there. And this knowledge played a crucial role in our way of working with our first clients when we started. Opening a business in France and opening one in China is so different, and it is important to know where those differences are. It is not just about the market, but more than anything, it is about your future clients. Understand how they operate, how they feel, how they act according to different situations, what are their needs, what are the trends and the social conventions that you need to have in mind when working there.
Every business idea needs a business plan. First, we wrote down the directions we wanted our start-up to take, and we fixed some short term and long term goals, no matter how blurry they were. This helped us build up our five years business strategy which is mandatory for the registration.Make sure your business plan is as broad as possible, because once it is approved by the government, these will be the guidelines your business will operate in. So you need to think of the strategy you want to have, give yourself enough freedom, while still including specific details. Understand how China will become in the next five years, and adapt your plan accordingly.
Obviously, creating your own business will cost money. Depending on your industry and situation, you will need a specific amount of fundings. For us, it was a lot thanks to our personal and family savings that we were able to realize our dream business. You have to find out how much money you need by doing some research and predicting your financial requirements in your business plan. By doing so, it will be much easier for you to convince others into financing your idea, or even get credits from the banks. Then it’s all about preparing the applications forms and the documents to officially get your start-up registered.
This is an important step. In China, the first person that registers a trademark will be the one that owns it. It doesn’t matter if they are using it afterwards or not, as long as they were the first one to register it. So make sure you don’t wait too long otherwise you might get disappointed. For the name of your future company, the logo, the website, the email addresses, everything. So the earliest you can do this step the better.
You can be an expert in your field but once you start having your own business, you will have to become a “Swiss pocketknife“ and learn how to do a bit of everything. For us, we were two people, one was more technical, one was more into marketing. But we both had to train ourselves into learning about management skills, and about each other’s fields. It was important for us to understand one another, facilitating our communication and being able to support the other in front of clients, during eventual questions, or during networking events. Because once the work starts, you won’t have much time to learn anymore. The rhythm gets quite intense sometimes.
One of the best advice we received a long time ago was that « you can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t have a good team with you, it might not work as you were expecting it to be. But with a good and talented team that you trust, you will be able to make even bad ideas become successful ones ». For us, we followed this advice and built our team entirely from people we already worked with or really trusted. When you start working for yourself, picking up your team members is crucial. You need to think strategically about what type of skills you need, and how you want the synergy to be. You won’t necessarily have the time to check each and everyone’s work and efficiency, so you need to trust the people you work with wholeheartedly. But even though you might be working with friends in the beginning, once your business starts to launch, you need to make sure to stay by the law. That means, you need a contract for each employee you hire, and do not forget about the employee manual, because later if you want to fire someone, your reason needs be listed in your employee manual otherwise you can get sued and lose money.
Have you heard about the word « guanxi »? This term is famous in China and is often used to talk about the network we build for personal and professional purposes. It is necessary to spend time going out, participating in networking events and developing a lot of « relationships » with as many people as you can. Your service might be irreproachable but if nobody knows about it, your business will sank. So what do you need to do? Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk. Advertise. Advertise. Advertise. There is no secret formula for this. The more people you can reach and talk to about your new business, the more notoriety you will get and that will help you get clients, employees and potential partnerships.
What we noticed after starting our business was that we sometimes spent too much time doing just one task, or worst, we tried doing too much at the same time which often ended up in not being able to do anything properly. It’s important to keep your goals in mind at all time, and really keep track on managing your time. Nobody will be there to remind you that your deadline is coming up, and you might find yourself rushing last minute if you don’t get organized. Same thing goes for your resources which includes money and task force. You need to have a clear view on who you will put on each project and how much money you will invest. What is hard in having your own business is the inconsistency of income and projects, sometimes you might find yourself having too many projects in a short period of time, which means more money coming in, but sometimes you might struggle to get a client. So it is definitely different from what working in a stable company feels like, but the thrill is real and we wouldn’t trade it for the whole world.
And lastly, remember to take it slowly. You will always have to optimize yourself each step of the way, compromise, stay flexible but most importantly listen to other people’s feedbacks while never losing track of your goals. You never know what could happen, so stay alert and be prepared for anything. Sometimes you can get discourage, seeing that nothing is really moving, but these things need perseverance and time. Rome wasn’t built in a day they say. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t jump into every business deals you encounter. In China, it takes time to build strong business relationships, so make sure you have some patience and your efforts will be rewarded along the way.
Everyone can have an idea, but being able to achieve and make it happen is something else. China might look like it is full of opportunities, but you need a specific mindset and cultural knowledge before you take the plunge. Be prepared for some hard work, sleepless nights and jumpy roads before you succeed. Just make sure you push through and you don’t lose your motivation and passion. But by choosing a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life.