The siren song of the China market has lured many small businesses with the purchasing power of its one billion customers. Accessing the China market can be a costly, tricky, and time-consuming endeavor for even the savviest Fortune 500 companies. Intellectual property gets stolen, your partners can turn into your competitors overnight, and understanding the regulatory environment can be elusive. But to forego the market means leaving money on the table. So with limited resources and bandwidth, what can a small business do to get China right?
Small businesses are “in vogue” now with the political elite in both markets. The favorable political trade winds are blowing as government leaders in Washington, DC and Beijing are searching for ways to encourage small business, and spur exports. In China, a laser-like focus on helping U.S. small business access the mega market is being led by none other than Jack Ma, the charismatic founder of the online behemoth, Alibaba. Mr. Ma was one of the first executives to visit then President elect Trump at the iconic Trump Tower, where he pledged to create one million jobs in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest and for U.S. small businesses seeking to export to the China market. Leverage Alibaba's flagship business platform and the many other online trading platforms to access the market – the politics are behind you.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office knows the international government affairs representative for General Electric, General Motors, Boeing, Caterpillar and the like. But do they know you? Connecting with the relevant officials at the Department of Commerce and USTR and make sure they know your product and what support your business needs. If and when you encounter the inevitable road bump, you can enlist their support and have them raise your issue with their Chinese counterparts. Getting your issue on the bilateral agenda and having the weight of the U.S. Government behind you can help. 3. Protect Your IP China has a world-class system to protect intellectual property rights; the problem is enforcement. It’s a simple matter to file patents and trademarks, but a Herculean task to have them enforced. Years ago, Pfizer estimated that an astounding 95 percent of its Viagra was counterfeit. File your paperwork to protect your IP, but also put in place a system to effectively complain about its lack of enforcement. Here again, the U.S. Government and Embassy can be your allies (see Tip #2 Know Thy Regulator).
7.3 hundred million people in China shop online. The online retail market is $680 billion – compared with the U.S. market at $394.86 billion in 2016. Social media is how products spread. This is a cost-effective way to get the word out on your product or service. Get on WeChat – and take some of the online tutorials.
Business – and all other facets of life in China – is based on relationships. But flying to China can be an unimaginable expense for small businesses. The next best option is to get to know your friendly neighborhood Embassy or Consulate – they have a direct line into your regulators in Beijing. Also, getting to know the local U.S.-China business networks or associations, and attending local events with visiting Chinese officials, will help you build relationships that can positively impact your business.
Business and industry associations all provide insights, resources, and support in the China market. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce counts more than three million members -- many small businesses. The U.S.-China Business Council also supports small businesses, as does countless industry associations from IT to direct sales to mining. Joining these associations can be a cost effective way to keep up on the latest regulations and trends in your sector, but most importantly, these organizations have long standing relationships with Chinese regulators and officials across the spectrum and throughout the country: they can be your Sherpa and/or advocates as needed.