26 June 2015 // Thoughts

Working in China, Part 4: Managing the Work

So you’ve finally signed the contract and work has started, but that’s not the end of it. Instead, you’ve only begun your journey toward a new set of challenges.

It’s About Relationships
One of the most underestimated aspects of doing business in China is the value of maintaining an ongoing personal relationship with your client throughout the duration of the project. Keeping the client happy has a lot to do with the work you are providing them, but not entirely. Western firms often overlook this crucial aspect because we believe that if we do our work the client should be happy and we should be paid on time. Conversely, your Chinese competitors will spend more time “courting the client” even after the contract is signed – to ensure that the ongoing work process continues to go smoothly, which will hopefully result in getting paid, and in a timely manner. This does not mean that you have to take your client out to dinner every month or call every week. But checking on them from time to time to provide information or to just listen to their thoughts and concerns can make a world of difference.

Your relationship manager shouldn’t be your design lead, or chief analyst, or production manager, etc., as this can often muddy the waters between the needs of the project and the needs of the relationship. Instead, this should be an account executive or principal, someone who manages the project from a contractual standpoint, who focuses on keeping the communication positive and the client happy.

Always More to Learn
It’s important to remember that even once you successfully enter and compete in the Chinese market, there will always be much to learn as the business environment and cultural landscape continues to evolve.

For example, as you begin to make more in-roads into the Chinese market, you
may ask:

  • What is the difference between a client who is a private developer and a government official?
  • Why do some provinces have different tax terms?
  • Why don’t they conduct a feasibility study?
  • What makes them think they can make that crazy opening date?
  • Did they really get the land?
  • Should I find a Chinese firm to be my partner?

These are all important issues that need to be understood in order for you to approach proposals and projects in the proper manner. By discussing these issues with your fellow industry professionals and learning from their first-hand experiences, you will be better prepared to understand and adapt to these issues as they come to light in your own business dealings. Hiring a local representative can also provide a great deal of insight and may be well worth the cost of consulting fees.

In conclusion, China is a complex yet dynamic market that will offer great opportunities to those who truly commit to adapting themselves to best fit the market and culture. It just takes patience, a willingness to learn, a flexible approach and an ongoing commitment.