A migrant business-person’s guide to survival

A migrant businessperson’s guide to survival!doing business

A U.S deodorant manufacturer, looking to do business in Mexico, sent a Spanish language translation of its slogan to its intended Mexican audience. It read “If you use our deodorant, you won’t be embarrassed”. Unfortunately, Mexican-Spanish speakers were not impressed!

The translation used the word “embarazada” to mean “embarrassed.” However, in Mexican Spanish it means “pregnant”!  What an embarrassment indeed!


Netherlanders doing business in Australia

While the above incident was lighthearted enough to laugh away, Netherlanders migrating to Australia, in the hope of establishing business in their new homeland, would do well to heed one important lesson:


Subtle can scuttle!

Insensitivity or misunderstanding of even the slightest of cross-cultural differences, if ignored, could create substantial challenges in doing business.

Entrepreneurs from the Netherland, looking to establish themselves in Australia, should take heart in the fact that the Dutch were one of the earliest explorers – in the 1640s – of Australia’s coastal regions. However, while the basic principles of doing business, such as:

  • Knowing your customers
  • Commitment to quality
  • Honoring business deals
  • Paying your taxes
  • Appreciating your employees

remains the same between both nations, there are some basic business norms and etiquette that sets entrepreneurs in the two countries apart.

Subtle differences that can make/break your business

A business venture, no matter where it is established in the world, has to function within the broader society that it serves. Being aware of some differences between Dutch and Australian business environments will give Netherlanders a leg up when they decide to establish their new business venture in Australia:

  • Understanding Australian Individualism: New business start ups in Australia, especially when lead by businessmen/women from countries like the Netherlands, should understand that, in Australia, (generally) individualism plays a central role in society. So when you build a product or service that appeal to “family, friends, community”, it may be well received by the Dutch consumer, but not so by your Australian audience. What works in Australia is any message that reinforce the consumers individualism and his/her independence from a broader group.
  • Men versus women in the workforce: Research indicates that the business world in Australia (USA, Canada, Great Britain) scores above average when it comes to attaching greater significance to men than women. Countries like the Netherlands (Norway, Sweden) are on the other extreme, where “feminine” values are more broadly espoused in society. Something to keep in mind when hiring or assigning work to employees!
  • Employment guarantees: Compared to the Netherlands, where employers offer far greater job security to their workforce, that is not the expectation from most Australian entrepreneurs. Because your employees don’t expect you to offer them job security, it goes without saying that you too should not expect them to offer you guarantees of “sticking around”. Plan your hiring processes accordingly!
  • Employee reward schemes: The pay structures for employees are generally different between workforces in Australia and the Netherlands. Unlike the Netherlands, where the base pay is quiet reasonable, it is common for Australian sales people, for example, to have a low base pay with plenty of bonuses and performance incentive opportunities. Emigrating business people from the Netherland may need to keep that in mind when budgeting for wages and salary expenditure in Australia.
  • A relatively fast-paced business environment: While business contacts (suppliers, vendors, customers) in the Netherlands might take time to make lots of “small talk”, before getting to the heart of the matter, Australians are more “direct”, and come straight to the point. So when you are negotiating a business deal, don’t be surprised if your Australian customer dives straight into asking about costs, discounts etc., and then immediately saying “Thank you Mate!” and walks off. It’s not rude, nothing personal or offensive. It’s just the way business is done in Australia!
  • The managers you hire: Successful businesses don’t run because of a single individual – the owner/founder. You’ll need to hire business managers to run key aspects of your business for you. While business leaders/managers in the Netherlands tend to have a high sense of initiative and drive, you’ll find slightly less of that in Australian business managers. That means, if you intend to give your managers greater autonomy in your new Australian venture, then you need to be more discerning in your hiring practices: Screen more rigorously than you did when you were “back home”! 
  • A Taxing question: While businesses in the Netherlands pay Value Added Tax (VAT), there is no threshold for specifically registering for VAT. However, when you do business in Australia, their Goods and Services Tax (GST) has a registration threshold of AUD75,000.
  • Not a White Christmas! Most importantly, as a prospective business owner in Australia, you should be critically aware that Christmas falls in summer – not in winter – in Australia. While most business in the Netherlands plan for winter holiday season sales, Christmas products and services in Australia should be planned at the height of their summer!


Success isn’t hard – it’s just different

If you keep the above tips in mind, succeeding in your business venture in your new country of choice – Australia – won’t be too difficult. It’ll just be different, and will require getting used to – that’s all.


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