Some advice for UK businesses looking to enter the China market

China is not just another market. It is a powerhouse that will have a fundamental impact on any business that trades there. Entering that market, therefore, should be considered as part of a strategic business review by the board and not as a regional business opportunity by a delegated manager without a strategy vision. China is so huge that products will often have to be developed specifically for that market.

For businesses looking at China for the first time, and increasingly that means only small and medium-sized enterprises with a manufacturing bent, the hardest transition is from initial trading to longer-term investment. Smaller businesses will be able to take the trading steps but in most cases will choose not to or will be unable to make the subsequent investment steps. It may be a bleak prospect, but in most cases the most realistic advice will be a sale to a bigger entity. So much for the longer term; how best to take realistic steps for next year’s business plan?

A few years ago the British Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai published the 40 commandments of doing business aimed at building profitable, sustainable and low-risk operations in China (available on One key commandments is to make sure to take full advantage of the British government’s commercial advisory services. In this short space it is barely possible to cover the basics, so here are my own three commandments:

  • Visit Shanghai and start with the consulate
  • Define a 10-year strategy (and ask who will be owning the business at the end of that period)
  • Develop a one-year plan to work towards.