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Choosing the Tools for Social Media for Small Business

The initial part of this series explored the need for small businesses to use social media and what were some of the critical steps in the process. Questions were raised to assist the small business owner to focus their efforts in the best way possible to achieve the desired results based upon the overall objectives and goals of the marketing plan. It gave a few tips on how to specifically identify the target audience and where they could be found on social media.

It is possible to compare the selection of the tools for social media to how a farmer selects the tools. First he/she surveys the land to determine the best type of crop to plant. This is similar to the owner reviewing the business website. The website for the small business is very much like the land for the farmer. It must be easy to use, provide content, contains various ways for people to interact with business and other ways to link with the business. As the farmer begins to make a choice of crop or crops to plant, he/she identifies who will be buying the crops. For the owner, it is the identification of the target audience. The farmer then makes the selection of the crop or crops that will produce the greatest results for them and develops a plan or process that will be used to plant the crops. This includes the review of the tools the farmer has on hand and the tools he/she needs to purchase or lease to complete the job of planting. Thus the farmer reviews each of their tools to ensure they are in good condition and able to perform effectively the tasks that need to be accomplished.

As the farmer makes the decisions about crops, the owner has to make the choice of the products or services he/she are going to provide to customers. The owner must review the website and began asking the questions that will assist in making the correct decisions on improvement.

For instance,

  1. How effective has the website been in assisting creating more sales?
  2. What kind of content are we providing that helps prospective customers?
  3. What is on the site that keeps the customer captured in order for them to spend more time looking at other products?
  4. Do I have links to other social media sites?
  5. Do I have a place for them to sign up for something free I am giving them?
  6. What other things can I offer to them to keep them on the site longer or have them buy a product or service?

The implements for the farmer are limited by the type of product they are going to produce and the overall size of the area to be planted. For the owner, the implements for social media are much more varied and are dependent on the target audience and the overall time that a small business owner plans to expand on social media. Presently, the major tools being used include: Facebook, Twitter; LinkedIn; You Tube; and Google+.

While the ones listed above are the most popular and used most often, they are not the only tools that are available for a small business. Some other tools being used are Tumblr, Slideshare, Instagram, Foursquare, Yelp, Pinterest, Gentlemint and Merchant Circle. Each one of these tools provides different formats and reaches different audiences.

So much as the farmer decides on the best tools for planting the crops, small business owners must do the same thing. As we review the popular tools, it is important for you as the small business owner to keep in mind your target audience; also, the amount of time you want to expend in using social media.

Social media tools discussed below have requirements that you create a profile. The profile will differ somewhat between social media platforms. It is important that the owner complete each of the profiles. This becomes the key for people to learn to know about the owner and the services or products that the company provides. Some of the requested information include: name, picture, professional headline, current title, web sites, public profile, summary, specialties, experience, education, interests, groups and associations, skills, personal information, contact settings, and companies.

The tool called Facebook is one of the most popular of the tools and is constantly growing. Businesses of all sizes are using this tool. Businesses create fan pages and business pages to promote their business. They ask people to like their pages in order to create greater number of followers. When they post updates people who have asked to get notifications and feeds will get them. This is a way for them to promote their brands, events, and coupons. Before selecting this as the place where you want your business listed as an owner must understand that just posting a page is not sufficient. It requires time to place status updates and respond to updates in a timely manner. It is about the relationship you are creating. Prior to select this tool the owner should check for the demographics of the website to ensure it fits the target audience.

LinkedIn as a tool is one of the most powerful tools for connecting with professionals. It is a tool that allows a person to develop a professional profile, upload a resume and join groups, create groups and follow individuals and companies. It is a good source to find information about a person or company. It is an excellent way to connect to other professionals across the nation and world as well as generate request for introductions to others. It allows a user to maintain a contact list of people they know and trust in business and can use to help connect with others. As with other tools, it must be used professionally and needs to have ongoing maintenance. Interactions are also important in establishing your creditability with this tool.

Twitter is another of the more popular tools in social media. It requires more attention than others because it is more like carrying on several conversations. It is used worldwide and can be considered a micro blogging site. It is a good tool to keep people posted as to what is occurring in your industry and information that as a business should be shared with others. It is a means of connecting with leaders in your industry and finding out their thoughts and how they influence people. As with the other tools, it requires a time commitment to maintain and respond to twits or updates from people.

YouTube is a video sharing social media site that is owned by Google. This site has grown considerably and is now the number two search engine. Business and individuals use this as a means of connecting with people using a visual mode. Studies show that people will watch a short video rather than read a large amount of data. It is also used as an educational platform and provides various types of self-development information. It is a great platform for delivering video-based testimonials, how to guides and commercials promoting products and/or services. As with other tools, a business can subscribe to other users and receive information when new posts are made. Before selecting this medium recognize that new videos will need to be developed and uploaded to be an effective tool.

Google+ (Google Plus) is a relative new tool as far as social media is concerned. It is used by both businesses and individuals. It provides a few more tools to use within the site than some of the others. Some of them include: Circles, Hangouts, Messenger, Instant Upload of Photos, Hashtags, Explore posts, Find People, Events, Find Local Businesses, Create Business Pages and more. The features make it easy for an individual to use. Since it is part of the Google product line one must have a Google Email account to use Google+. As a whole when viewed with the other Google product provides a great arsenal of tools to assist small business become more successful.

The tools we have briefly discussed are some of the most powerful being used presently, but they are only as good as the owner who selects to use them. The owner must remember that as a farmer selects the tools, the owner must do the same that are best for the designed marketing plan. The use of the tools themselves for owner is most important. Once the farmer prepares the field with the right tools and plants the seed, it is now important to water the seeds and plants until it is time to harvest. The owner has prepared his website, selected the social media tools based upon the marketing design, prepared each of the sites with the requested profiles and published each of the sites.

Now as the farmer waters the owner must use the status updates, tweets, messages, videos, slides. Responding to comments is also the way that a owner works with small business to establish the know, like and trust factors. This must be done with consistency overtime. As discussed in the previous article, social media is the developing of relationships with people and that does not happen quickly. Thus it is of utmost importance that a regular schedule be developed and implemented on a weekly basis.

The next segment of the series will review and look at social media sites that are up and coming and sites that are very powerful but have not gained in the overall popularity. As with the others, each has its strengths and weaknesses. Each therefore has different demographics and different targets. The business owner needs to have an understanding in order to select the best tool. A discussion of some of the sites that are better for international use will also be discussed. The subsequent articles will deal with tools to use to make using social media a little easier and ways to measure the return on investment of social media. The final part of the series will discuss other web-based tools that can assist small business become more effective in delivering services and products to customers.

As a owner, take the time to review each of the demographics for the sites. If you do not have a social media site, then select one that fits your demographics. Ask questions, raise concerns, review your goals, and talk to those who are using the sites, and then move forward with your plan.

6/5/20132 Lonnie G. Juarez, Jr. Ph.D. Visionary/CEO Social Business Media Connections and Social Business Media Managers

Why Make a Business Plan?

In many cases business plans are very important but so much of the time it’s a plan to try to convince someone else that you know what you are doing with your business like banks, investors, partners, etc. Now it’s true that a well written business plan can also be a major benefit to your success as well if done right. It can guide you and keep you on track and can be the vehicle to get you were you want to be especially with so many outside forces now days that bombard you. A plan can be extremely important to your success especially when you look at the statistics that says 51% of small businesses fail sometime during their first 5 years.

So why make a business plan? I want to show you a totally different kind of business plan. What if you made a business plan that focused only on what you want for your life? You have dreams about what you would like your lifestyle to be, right? Why not make a business plan that could give you those dreams? What would your business look like if it gave you exactly what you want in life. What kind of salary would your business need to give you? Why not build a business plan around that? Decide how much salary you would need to support your dreams and then build a business plan that would show exactly how your business could give you that. Wouldn’t it be better to have your business work for you instead of the other way around?

Did you ever stop and think what a unique position you’re in as a business owner? I don’t know of any other way you can have as much control over your success than owning a business. When you work for someone else, you are totally at their mercy as to what your future may be like. It doesn’t matter whether it is a private business you work for or a large corporation. Your future is in their hands. The only thing that might qualify other than owning a business would be to inherit or win a lot of money that would give you everything you want in life.

So, why make a business plan the normal way when you could first make one that could give you what you want in life? Have you ever thought about doing a plan like that? Would you know how? Would you have the time to do it?

Well if you don’t or not sure, let’s at least see what’s involved.

Here are the steps you would need to take.

First, you would need to know all your current business numbers. This will be the basis for the plan. You’re going to need to know:

1. What your current average monthly sales are
2. What your current average monthly material cost is
3. What your current average monthly labor cost is
4. What your current average monthly fixed expenses are
5. What your current average monthly variable expenses are
6. What your average number of transactions per customer per month are
7. What your average dollar sale per transaction is
8. What your average monthly profit is
9. What your average monthly profit margin is
10. And what % capacity your business is at right now

Second, decide what you want your salary to be

Third, determine how many years in the future you want to plan for

Fourth, you will need to know:

1. What % is your material cost of sales?
2. What % is your labor cost of sales?
3. And what % is your variable expense of sales?

Why do you need to know these percentages? As your sales increases or decreases, your material cost, labor cost, and variable expenses will track accordingly. They will track very close to the same % as your current business. As an example, let’s say your current sales is averaging $100,000 per month and your material cost is averaging $20,000 per month. That’s 20% of your sales ($20,000 ÷ $100,000 = 20%). So, what would your material cost be if your sales were averaging $200,000 per month? It would still be 20% but it would be 20% of $200,000 or $40,000. So with these percentages, you can project your material, labor and variable expenses. See how it works?

But your fixed expenses don’t do this. They remain the same no matter what sales does. That’s why it’s call fixed. These are expenses like rent, taxes, utilities, phone, salaries, insurance, etc. A lot of business owners never consider this. They just lump all their expenses together. But you could never make an accurate plan if you combine all your expenses together. If you project your sales higher and want to know what your expenses will be, you have to separate your fixed and variable.

So, thinking about this principle, let me ask you a question. If your sales grew 10% and nothing else changed, would your profit margin be higher, the same, or less? Profit margin is % of profit against sales

If you said the profit margin would be higher, then you are right. Why would your profit be higher? If you said because of the fixed expenses, you would be right. Your material cost, labor cost, and variable expenses would have gone up 10% but your fixed expenses would have remained the same. You brought in more revenue because of more sales and you spent 10 % more on material, labor, and variable expense to cover the extra sales, but you didn’t spend any more on your fixed expenses. So, less overall expenses, would give you higher profit margin. Make sense?

So, let’s see how we would make a business plan that would show exactly how your business could give you the salary you want.

First you would determine what you would like your salary to be. You’ve dreamed about having a nice income to support your dreams I’m sure. Let’s say right now you only make what your profit is giving you which might not be much. So let’s say the first year, next year, you would love to have a consistent monthly salary of $4,000 a month, every month. And every year you would like to be able to increase it so that after 10 years it would be at $10,000 per month. And let’s say you would like to grow your business 10% each year.

So, what would your business look like over the next 10 years to give you that?

Could you build a plan that would show exactly how your business could do that?

It would show what your sales, fixed expenses, material cost, labor cost, and variable expenses would need to be. It should also show you how many customers you would need and would show you what your profit and profit margins would be each year.

All it takes is your current business numbers as we listed earlier and you can make a business plan as many years out as you like.

Now, in addition, when you know the average number of transactions per customer and you know your average dollar sale per transaction, you can also project how many customers you would need over those 10 years as well. This would tell you everything about what your business would need to do to give you the salary you want.

So, wouldn’t it be nice to see what a plan like this would look like? Could you do it? It might not be as tough as you might think.

There is no doubt it would take some time and would require a lot of calculations, but when you understand these principles and know how to put it together, you could probably do it. What do you think? Have you ever thought about doing a plan like this? It’s actually kind of in reverse. You decide what you want and let your business give you that.

Now assuming you did do this and it looked reasonable to you, how would you go about making it happen? What approach would you use? This could be a little harder. Well let me show you something. It might be easier than you think.

Did you know there are 7 ways to increase profit in business? If we decided to grow our business, most likely the first thing we would think about would be to add more customers. Adding customers will increase sales and as we seen above can increase profit as well, but it might not be the most effective way to increase profit. Take a look at these and see which ones you think could work for you. Would it be to:

1. Add more customers?
2. Increase your transactions per customer?
3. Increase your average dollar sale per transaction?
4. Decrease your fixed expenses?
5. Decrease your variable expenses?
6. Decrease your material cost?
7. Or decrease your labor cost?

What’s more important, sales or profit? Profit is what generates your salary. You could actually make more profit with less sales. Less sales could actually be less work. The most important thing for a business is to make money. That’s profit. Now some might say, I don’t care so much about making a lot of money. I like the freedom of owning a business. Well that is probably true, but if you don’t watch your profit, you might lose that freedom.

It’s always amazed me how most businesses, even very large ones, talk about how much their sales are. You hear comments like, that’s a $10,000,000 company. But what’s a $10,000,000 company if it has no profit. Now I do admit that 2% net profit of $10,000,000 is a lot bigger than 2% of $1,000,000 but most likely the large one carries a lot more headaches too.

Maybe it would be much better to have focused on profit than sales. What if profit had been the focus instead of sales. What if this could have been the result?

$10,000,000 x 2% = $200,000 profit
$1,000,000 x 25% = $250,000 profit

So when using one or more of these 7 ways to increase profit, the first one (adding more customers) might be the one you want to focus on last. It’s probably more expensive

Now, if you had your plan completed and it showed what your business needed to do over the next 10 years to give you the salary and profit you wanted, the next thought would be how do I make it happen. Well the best way would be to take it one year at a time. Concentrate on next year first and then choose one or more of 2 through 7 to work on before trying to add customers.

As an example, let’s say your current average number of transactions per month per customer is 3.0. Which says on average each customer does business with you 3 times each month. You could calculate how much more profit you would get if you could increase it to 3.5. And I can tell you that would probably be enough to meet your plan. And if that did generate enough profit, all you would have to do is maintain everything else; sales, expenses, labor, average dollar sale, etc, and then just figure out how you could increase your transactions from 3.0 to 3.5. Maybe it could be with some type of promotion that would get customers to come in more often.

Once you chose which one or more of the 7 you want to use and calculate exactly how much impact they have on meeting your plan, you would now have a definite approach on how to make your plan work.

It seems simple. At that’s what it’s all about. It’s about how to make your plan work the easiest and smartest way you can eliminating all the guesswork or trial and error methods. Want to increase your profit? This is a good way to do it.

So, you see, once you decide which of the 7 ways you’re going to do, then the only thing left for you to do is figure out how to make the one or ones you have chosen work.

No doubt there would be a lot work to do to do a plan like this. You would need to figure out how to put it all together, do all the calculations, do a lot of what if’s, etc.. And I’m sure one of the biggest things would be, would you actually take the time to do something like this or even have the time to do it? You could pay someone to do it but that would probably cost you a lot. Plus if you did that, most likely it would require a lot of back and forth work to get it just like you wanted it which would be even more expensive. But even then, would you spend the money to do it?

There is a better way. If you would like to develop a nice plan like this for yourself and give yourself a good shot at making your life better, then find a planning software that does it all for you.

One place and probably the only place I’ve found is http://StrategicBusinessSolutionsLLC.com.

Doing Business in Vietnam: Understanding the Cultural Differences

Introduction

In today’s global business environment with your business it is important to have some understanding of the people and the culture that you have intentions of doing business.

The better prepared you are, the more successful your business negotiations are likely to be, “to be forewarned, is to be forearmed”, it’s your choice.

I have included some basic strategies and options that if properly used will enhance and improve your level of success. These suggestions are based on a number of years of personal business experience, in the real world with real people. Taking this approach works and I can assure you, it works well.

Topics

1. Family Culture
2. Reputation – “Saving face”
3. Name Structure
4. Greetings
5. Bribery and Corruption
6. Gift Giving
7. Standard Working Practices
8. Business Meetings – preparation
9. Business Meetings – what to expect
10. Business Culture – communication
11. Asking Questions
12. Festivals/Holidays
13. Compliments
14. Social Gatherings
15. Superstitions
16. Other – Traditional Vietnamese customs
17. Summary

Although with today’s technology we can conduct much of our business online, in this type of scenario, it can only take you so far. There is no substitute for actually being there, in person and immersing yourself in the local environment.

I believe we often lose sight of the fact that technology is just a tool that can help us to do our job, the true nature of business, is all about people.

1. Family Culture

The first step in getting a handle on how to do business in Vietnam is to understand what the prevailing dynamics are that defines the parameters of their social structure. By having some familiarity with these basic cultural aspects of Vietnamese society and by using a little empathy, we can start to understand the key elements that are the mainstay of their society and in turn how it defines and influences their business culture.

- Chinese Confucianism plays a very big role in their philosophical beliefs and in their daily life
- Elder’s are generally revered and their life experiences are held in high esteem within the family
- It becomes self evident why you see a number of generations of a family living under one roof
- The male makes the final decision for most, if not all matters, the traditional ideal of male superiority is still in place today
- The eldest son of a family is seen as the head of household, and in this case, the elder is usually seen as a role model
- Worshipping of ancestors is common place, as they are seen as the source of life, fortunes, and a key tenant that upholds their family culture
- Their ancestors are honoured and on the day of their death they often perform special ceremonies and rituals, to the Vietnamese their deceased elders are considered the wellspring of their very existence
- Birthdays are not generally celebrated by traditional Vietnamese families
- Vietnam is basically a collectivist society in which the needs of the group are often placed over that of the individual, this holds particularly true in the family values context
- Family and community concerns will almost always come before business or individual needs
- The family ethos plays a very important, central role in Vietnamese society
- Families, extended families and communities can have a major influence on an individual family members behaviour whether they be children or adults

The essence of “family” is one of the most important characteristics of Vietnamese culture, “family” is everything. And it’s worth keeping in mind that Vietnam is also a patriarchal type of society in regard to the family ethos. A similar sort of hierarchy is in place in most Vietnamese companies to varying degrees.

Vietnamese society is rapidly changing, as the country opens up, as the society becomes more affluent, the Vietnamese are over time becoming more “western-like” in nature. Some of the long held family traditions are starting to slip away.

As the younger generations are exposed to more and more western culture, some of those long-held traditional family values are being eroded and the western mind-set and culture is fast becoming more prevalent.

2. Reputation – “Saving Face”

The concept of saving “face”, occurs all over Asia, in some cases it is the overriding factor in everything they do. Today in some of the more developed Asian countries this mind-set is not as strictly adhered to as it once was.

- The concept of saving face is still extremely important
- Reputation confers dignity and the prestige of a person and by virtue that persons family
- Particularly with the Vietnamese it is ingrained into their very psyche, “reputation” is seen as the only thing that can be left behind for one’s family after death

As the younger, more educated generations, start to make their presence felt in their own cultures, these changes will become more pronounced. Some of these types of traditional beliefs are starting to take a small step back, however do not underestimate how much impact; “reputation” will have on your business negotiations in Vietnam.

3. Name Structure

- Names are written in the following order: 1. Family name. 2. Middle name and 3. Given name (Christian name)
- The family name is placed first because it emphasises the person’s heritage, the family, as mentioned previously, “family” is everything
- The middle name “Thi” indicates that the person is female, “Van” indicates that the person is male

4. Greetings

- For more important occasions, use the family name, middle name and finally the given name
- Using the word “Thua” which means “please” being polite rates you more highly in their eyes
- Addressing a person older or higher ranking than you just by name is considered disrespectful; even within the family or in relative relationships, always include their title with their first name
- Generally women do not shake hands with each other or with men; they bow slightly to each other
- If it comes to age versus rank, higher ranking people are usually greeted first

5. Bribery and Corruption

Be aware that various forms of it exist at all levels within Vietnamese society; it is an integral part of their culture and has been for a long time. One of the main reasons this occurs, is that the “standard” wages in a lot of business sectors in Vietnam is very low, this also includes government departments. At the lower end of the scale, monthly salaries can be as low as $100 (US) per month.

- Recommended resource: Transparency International
Corruptions Perceptions index for 2012, which covers 174 countries, the higher the number, the more corrupt a country is perceived to be:
o Vietnam – 123
o Cambodia – 157
o Laos – 160
o Myanmar – 172
- Recommended resource: Tuoitre News (English language news site for Vietnam)

This is generally acknowledged to be a sensitive area, from an ethics point of view, you will need to make your own decisions. Some sectors of business are different to others, it pays to be informed. All I can suggest is to do a decent amount of research, from that you can draw your own conclusions and make informed decisions.

I suggest that your research be focussed on understanding the “how” and “where” of commissions. Somewhere along the line, you will be paying commissions, whether you know it, or not. You need to know where this is going to happen, how it is going to happen, and most importantly, what it is going to cost, be prepared.

Ensure that when you do business in Vietnam you get as close to the source as possible, if you are sourcing products, only deal with the manufacturers.

The further away you are from the people that can actually do the job, the more it will cost, as everybody involved has to get their commission, which you will be paying.

6. Gift Giving

Gift giving is a common practice in Vietnam and is not seen as any sort of bribery; these thank-you gifts do not need to be expensive and should be seen as a small token of your appreciation.

It can be surprising how genuinely thankful the Vietnamese can be when you present them with small gifts, it puts you in good stead for further negotiations, there are a few options available.

- Flowers
- Chocolates/candy
- Fruit

One of the most effective gifts that you can give them, are small souvenirs that represent your home country. For example if you are from Australia buy a dozen or so, small key-rings, with kangaroo’s, koalas, boomerang’s etc, they only cost a few dollars each.

Go to the lengths of wrapping them up in a box with bright wrapping paper. This sort of approach will earn you loads of “brownie-points”, far more than what it cost you to purchase these types of gifts, it is a terrific investment for the future

7. Standard Working Practices

Standard business hours apply, 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday in the larger cities. Some corporate offices and Government departments are open for a half-day on Saturday. In regional areas, hours may differ and shops may close over the lunchtime period for an hour or more.

- When conducting your business in major cities in Vietnam, English is quite widely spoken by Vietnamese business people. Do not automatically make the assumption that their English is going to be good enough to give you the all information you require

- The further out you go into the regional areas and provinces, the more difficult it is to find these small family run businesses and the less English is spoken. Therefore plan your trip well to cover any eventuality

If in any doubt, hire a translator and save yourself a lot of headaches. Finding the right translator for you is very important and it is not an easy process. I would suggest here, that you get your translator to sign one of your company confidentiality agreements.

One copy in English and one in Vietnamese, get them to sign both copies and make sure you give them a copy of both and keep the originals for your records. You need to be absolutely certain that the translator you have hired is on your side, not theirs (commission).

8. Business Meetings (preparation)

Vietnamese business people prefer to schedule business meetings well in advance, several weeks ahead is not uncommon, this holds especially true when they know you are visiting from another country. They will do a lot of preparing for these types of meetings; you should be doing the same.

- The 1st meeting in many ways, is the most important, you can use your agenda, as a starting point for your key discussion items. Minutes, take notes, document all decisions, actions, timeframes etc
- Prior to the meeting I would recommend that you also supply a written agenda in point form (a list), outlining very specifically your objectives, the how, what, where, when, who etc
- Within 24 hours of the meeting taking place, send your official business minutes to all the individuals that attended the meeting
- Keep in mind you have the option of arranging your initial meeting(s), at the hotel you will be staying. This can save a lot of hassle if you don’t know your way around. You also have the advantage of being on “neutral” territory and you may not have to deal with as many people in your first round of discussions
- Later on, when you’ve narrowed down your selection, you can then arrange meetings at their premises. This is absolutely mandatory, before you make the decision who to do business (How will you know that the business they are showing you is actually theirs?)
- Find out beforehand exactly who will be at the meeting, find out their names and titles and try to send your agenda to them directly from you. Rather than relying on one person in their organisation to distribute your agenda to the right people internally
- If you really want to impress them you could; a) get the agenda translated into Vietnamese, and/or b) bring a translator to the meeting. If you do this, do not tell them beforehand you are bringing one
- Always assume that the other parties’ command of the English language (conversation) will not be as good as their ability to read English

As they say, “the-devil-is-in-the-detail”, by taking the time and effort to go to this level of detail you will achieve a lot more, in a shorter time frame.

1. It will give you some control over the events taking place
2. You will impress them and as a result gain much respect (“face”)
3. You will be able to move your negotiations along a lot faster
4. You have made a framework that both parties understand and can work within

Most importantly, you have provided a “non-confrontational” way to tackle any ensuing issues or delicate problems, its now about the issue, not the person.

9. Business Meetings (what to expect)

Punctuality is extremely important; it pays to be on time to meetings, do not take any chances. Some places can be very difficult to find, plan to be at the location of the meeting 15-20 minutes beforehand. It gives you time to focus and allows you to take in your surrounding environment.

- When first at the meeting watch carefully the seating arrangement, this will give you some indication of the internal pecking order
- Do not be surprised if the most senior person at the meeting does not chair the meeting. If you have taken the approach I suggest, at this point you have a subtle level of control, make the most of it, and handle it very delicately
- The person most likely to conduct the meeting is the person that speaks and understands English the best, but it is highly unlikely that this person will be the actual decision maker
- When at the meeting, never a say a flat “no” to anything, the best response is something like; “yes, I’ll have to go away, and think about that one” or “yes, but I will need to confer with my work colleagues back home” or “I don’t have the authority to make that decision”
- When they ask, “How long are you here for”, do not divulge this information. Answer the question with something like, “When I have concluded all my business, I will then return home”, or “When I have completed my assignment, I can return home”

Always smile, even when you’re saying no, or if you’re confused or not sure. If anything “out of the blue” suddenly appears, something completely unsuspected, take careful note of what it is. Make sure you ascertain the ramifications of this new information, before moving on to the other items in your agenda.

10. Business Culture (communication)

Vietnamese companies tend to be very hierarchical in nature; the most senior person in the business usually carries the most influence in the decision-making process. Titles are very important in the Vietnamese business culture as status is gained by education and age.

There is great deference and respect paid to fellow work colleagues, supervisors and managers, some key points to keep in mind.

- Business relationships in Vietnam are relatively formal and tend to take time to develop as Vietnamese like to get to know their foreign counterparts before conducting business
- Vietnamese may be suspicious of those who they do not know very well at first, so be sure to spend the time during the first few meetings to get better acquainted
- It is important to use titles whenever possible, you are showing respect and you are gaining “face” while doing it
- When referring to one another, Vietnamese people use a person’s title followed by their first name, not their surname (e.g.; Mr John)
- It may be advisable to have all written documents translated into Vietnamese as your business counterparts in Vietnam will not necessarily indicate that they do not fully understand you. If you are not sure what their true English language capability is, hiring a translator may prove a very worthwhile option
- Like most Asian countries business cards are a commonly used in Vietnam; it is considered good business etiquette to have your business cards printed in both English and Vietnamese
- When offering your business card for the first time, present it using both hands with the Vietnamese language side facing up and towards the person you are offering
- Negotiations can be quite lengthy and time-consuming as the Vietnamese will want to examine everything as well as consulting their own group before reaching any agreement
- Doing business in Vietnam can also be quite slow as there is often a lot of bureaucracy to go through before a deal can be finalised. Make sure all official (government) documentation is correctly filled-in, it is stamped and certified by all the relevant government agencies
- Most Vietnamese tend to hide their feelings, avoid conflict and confrontation, in order to avoid hurting or embarrassing anyone. For example, a ‘Yes’ may not actually be an affirmative answer, but it could be a polite reply used to avoid hurting the feelings of the person in question (You really need to be able to tell the difference)
- The Vietnamese usually smile when they do not want to answer an embarrassing question or when they do not want to offend the person involved
- The Vietnamese will smile when being scolded by a person senior in age or status to show them that they still respect the persons scolding and do not hold any grudge. (This pattern of behaviour can be interpreted as challenging or insulting to a westerner, but the reality is, it is part of their nature and it is a cultural norm)

A word about non-verbal communication be careful when interpreting Vietnamese body language, hand gestures, tone-of-voice, and facial expressions. The assumptions and deductions you may make as a westerner based on your prior experience, are in all likelihood somewhat off the mark.

They may use the same sort of gestures, but some of these gestures you are familiar with, may mean something altogether different to the Vietnamese.

Finally, when wrapping-up a meeting, always end on a positive note, a little bit of well placed flattery goes a long, and always remember, smile, smile, smile… ï��

11. Asking Questions

When a Vietnamese person asks you questions, for them it is not considered offensive or rude in their culture to ask personal questions regarding age, marital status, salary, religion, etc.

Make the opportunity to find out whatever you can about the people you are dealing with, have some informal, casual conversations and ask the following types of questions.

- Single or married, do you have children, ages, sex etc?
- What qualifications do you have, degrees, where did you go to Uni etc?
- Have you been overseas, where, what did you do etc?
- How long have you been working for this company?

Keep the discussion light and breezy, this sort of inquiry serves a number of useful purposes; you are establishing some rapport and comfort with the other players, you get some idea of their capability, and you can subtly find out who speaks the best English.

12. Festivals/Holidays

Tet, around this time of year the country practically “shuts-down” and although it’s officially a four day holiday, these holidays can start earlier and they can go on longer. I would suggest that a week prior to “Tet” and a week after, there is little point in attempting to schedule meetings and conduct business.
For Many Vietnamese, this holiday is extremely important; they all try to get together under one roof as a family unit to celebrate the “Chinese” New Year.
- Lunar New Year, is the most important yearly festival
- This is the first day of the lunar calendar year
Tet Trung Thu
- Tet Trung Thu is held on the fifteenth day of the 8th month, the mid-Autumn festival

13. Compliments

The Vietnamese do not say “thank you” very often, because it is considered insincere. When they do, they really mean it, and this form of gratitude can last a lifetime. They will not be happy until they can somehow find a way to repay the kindness you have shown them.

14. Social Gatherings

In the social context, when referring to one another, the term “brother” or “sister” is often used.

This term is a sign of respect; it is the younger members in the group that are subtly acknowledging the people older than them, by referring to them as their “brother” or “sister”.

If a Vietnamese person refers to a westerner as a “brother” or “sister”, in casual conversations at social gatherings, you have by your very actions earned their respect. That in itself is a huge win; you need to congratulate yourself, because you’re doing exceptionally well.

In social situations and informal gatherings, whoever is the oldest present, is the person that is automatically considered the leader.

15. Superstitions

The Vietnamese are very superstitious people; a good example of this is the “owl”, in western society it is usually perceived as a symbol of wisdom or being wise. To the Vietnamese the owl is a bad omen, a harbinger of death.
Whatever happens do not become a “bad” omen to them; if the Vietnamese business people you are dealing with see you as being “lucky”, they will go to great lengths to secure not only your business, but your friendship as well.

16. Other Traditional Vietnamese Customs (useful to know)

Friendships are highly valued, especially between close friends, they are often regarded as blood relatives; overall most Vietnamese are warm, friendly and hospitable.

- When a child is born, it is considered to be one year old
- When women marry, they don’t change their name
- It is the eldest sons filial duty to perform ancestor worship at home
- If a parent dies, the children customarily wait three years before marrying
- If a spouse dies, one should wait one year before remarrying
- If a sibling dies, the other siblings should wait one year before marrying

17. Summary

If you have serious intentions of doing business in Vietnam, there is no substitute for actually being there “in-situ”, viscerally in touch with the local environment. Take a little time to get acclimatised, get the “feel” of the place, the sights, the sounds, the smells.

It pays to explore and move around on foot, stopping here and there and watching the Vietnamese people going about their daily lives. It’s not just what they do, but far more telling, is the actual way that they do it.

Finally, don’t forget the networking, get out on the streets, and find westerners that live or work in Vietnam. Strike up a conversation with them, you will be amazed the wealth of knowledge and experience these sort of people have accumulated. In the right circumstances you may be able to tap into their network, now that’s time and effort well spent over a beer.

Wishing you, dear reader the best of luck with your business negotiations and I hope that this article has provided you with some useful insights that will make your business negotiations in Vietnam easier and more effective.

Many thanks for reading this article.