Now one of the world’s largest economies, India has become a popular place to do business. A diverse country with many different cultures and languages, mastering how to do business in India can be a challenge. Understanding things such as business etiquette and working hours, are essential, if you want to ensure that your next business trip is a success.
We’ve come up with 10 facts that you need to know, to help you to prepare for doing business in India…
1. Understand that it's a different culture
It may seem obvious but many people arrive in India expecting business to be conducted in much the same way as it is in the UK, especially when we’re confronted with brands that we recognise from home. The familiarity that this fosters, lulls us into a false sense of security. It’s important to always remember that you are in a very different culture and business practices simply aren’t the same. Have this at the forefront of your mind at all times.
2. Build relationships
In India, it’s important to build relationships with those that you are doing business with. Often, business decisions in India are made based on the trust that has been built between people, rather than solely on statistics or figures. For this reason, you should ensure that you take the time to get to know anyone who you intend to do business with. Small talk at the beginning of business meetings, regarding families, for example, is common and recommended. It’s not a good idea to rush straight to business.
3. Be patient, things take longer
In the UK and America, we have become accustomed to getting things done ‘right now’. Any delay and we tend to get frustrated. In India, things can take much longer and it will reflect badly on you if you become impatient. It’s not a good idea to be too forceful, either, as this could result in people deciding not to do business with you.
4. Long working hours
Working days have a different structure in India, with breakfast meetings not usually scheduled until around 10am. Indian’s also tend to have a later dinner, usually around 9pm - 10pm, so inviting your colleagues to dinner at 7pm may result in you sitting in a restaurant alone for a couple of hours. You should also be prepared for meetings to be interrupted or to finish later than scheduled.
5. Hire smart
Some sources suggest that over two-thirds of employers in India are finding it tough to locate employable staff. Only 2.3% of the workforce in India has undergone formal skills training, according to government data. Compare this to 68% in the UK and 52% in the US and you can see why employers are struggling to hire the right people for the job.
Any business wanting to ‘break’ India must plan for this.
6. Last minute changes
It’s not uncommon for meetings to be changed or cancelled at the last minute. Be prepared for this and try not to get frustrated - it’s all part and parcel of doing business in India.
7. Language barriers/Business language
As one of India’s official languages, English is widely spoken and is used for business purposes. However, some things are not quite the same. The word ‘no’ for example, is not used much in India, with “we’ll see” or “I will try” actually likely to mean ‘no - this is not going to happen’. This can confuse people who are new to doing business in India. Many often leave a business meeting thinking that it could be positive, when in reality it is a definite ‘no’.
Try not to push for an answer or be too forceful, as this could alienate someone. Think about how you ask questions. For example, if you want someone to meet up with you, you could ask what time would be best for them.
India can be a fair and rewarding place in which to do business.
8. Hierarchy in Indian Business
Indian companies generally have a much more formal hierarchical system than British ones, with senior managers unlikely to do anything that would normally be the responsibility of someone lower down in the business. Similarly, lower level staff are unlikely to make very many decisions, with decision-making left to higher level staff. Every employee tends to have their own responsibilities, which they will not stray from.
In a business meeting, you should always make sure that you say ‘hello’ to the most senior person within the company first.
Handshakes are the norm, although some Indians may greet you with the ‘namaste’, which involves pressing your palms together and bowing. Women do not generally shake hands.
Addressing someone as Mr. or Mrs. (or Dr. or Prof.) is recommended and if you are given a business card, make sure to take it and put it away with your right hand.
10. Transport issues
Infrastructure in India isn’t as developed as it is in, for example, China or America. There are no high-speed trains and a limited number of fast roads. You should also expect some power cuts, as these are relatively commonplace.
Knowing how to do business in India is essential if you want to take advantage of the many business opportunities in this vast and diverse nation. If you want more information about how business practices differ worldwide, take a look at our other blogs on doing business around the world, including in Japan, France and Italy.
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