Go with the flow when doing business in the Middle East

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hsbc4It's never easy starting up a business from scratch, any business. It's never easy starting up a business overseas, for example in the Middle East, where cultural differences and practices have to be taken account of. And if you're a women, well that can complicate matters, too.

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Whether a businessman or a businesswoman trying to engage in a male-dominated business environment, such as is common in Middle Eastern countries, finance and business banking will of course figure prominently in any plans, especially in the start-up or expansion phase of the business. Fortunately, banks in the UAE, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are extremely modern and forward looking. They all offer a multitude of helpful services for the businessman or woman, everything from online business banking to business credit cards. Talking of credit cards, take some time and view available business credit cards from HSBC, one of the best-known and most highly respected multinational banks operating across the Middle East.

Business tends to be conducted rather differently in the Middle East compared to the United States or Europe. Family-owned businesses are common and much of it is hierarchical. Often the head of the family is also the owner of the company or business. What he says and does not only matters, but is usually final in terms of decisions taken. Having said that, much of the strength of such businesses derives from strong family ties and cultural bonds which often go back generations. To get to the decision maker therefore can often involve a sometimes convoluted path, at least to Western minds, involving a progression through the family hierarchy. In the Middle East, building up respect and trust is usually a gradual process.

If attitudes seem more than a little conservative, then so is dress and appearance. Don't ignore this aspect of conducting business in the Middle East. It really is important. Men should dress smartly at all times and wear shirt, tie and a smart business suit. Hair should be short and tidy. Shoes should be clean. Women should dress conservatively, too, making sure to cover bare arms and shoulders. Loose-flowing clothes are best. Certainly, any tight-fitting or figure-hugging garment should be avoided at all costs. It might also be a good idea to wear some sort of headscarf.

Business meetings, too, are unlike their counterparts in the West and may take a bit of getting used to. Best advice is to go with the flow and you'll be fine. Time, for example, is a much more ‘elastic' affair in Middle Eastern business than in the United States. If a meeting has been set for a particular hour of the day, don't be surprised if it starts much, much later. That's just the way it is. However, better make sure that you yourself are not late!

No matter how much you may feel tempted, never jump in at the beginning and try to steer discussions straight onto the main point of the meeting. Not recommended. That will come in its own good time. So be patient as your host exchanges pleasantries with you and offers some refreshment in the form of a cup of coffee or tea. Don't take it personally, too, if the telephone interrupts the conversation, or members of the family suddenly walk in and start talking about something completely unconnected. That's simply the way business is conducted in the Middle East.

Click here for more information on business meetings in the Middle East.

This post was brought to you with support from HSBC.