As you spin your globe wondering where you should expand your business next, your finger might reflexively glide past the Middle East. But you’re urged to revisit that opportunity. In particular, Dubai and Abu Dhabi – two pockets of relative stability – could be the launching pads that your business needs.
Not only are Middle Eastern markets rapidly growing, but these markets also have young populations and increasingly diverse economies. In fact, according to a recent survey, Dubai has one of the five fastest-growing economies in the world.
One reason is location. The Middle East, after all, is conveniently tucked between Europe, Asia and Africa. Factors such as an expanding middle class and urbanization are spurring consumer spending, and governments are promoting certain areas of the economy. In the UAE, for example, the government is paying special attention to the education, healthcare and transportation sectors.
Rules and laws are also favorable to businesses. In Dubai, for instance, there’s a customs-free corridor between the airport and the port, meaning raw materials can be imported and exported free of charge.
Still, much like any global endeavor, you must consider the cultural nuances and unique characteristics of doing business in the Middle East before you dive in. Here are four tips for success that I learned when my company expanded to the Middle East:
1. Be Careful With Language
There are different languages in the region, so you must take care to note the variations. For example, an Iranian razor company adopted the brand name “Tiz” because it’s the Persian word for “sharp.” However, “tiz” is also an Arabic slang word for “buttocks.” As you might imagine, razor sales took a nosedive.
2. Hire People Who Can Bridge The Culture Gap
Talent identification is critical. Your best employees will be able to operate locally and understand Western business practices. I.e. a UK-based company hiring a native who is fluent in Arabic and English as a managing director; an individual with extensive work experience in the Middle East and received his MBA in the UK or other Western country (experience with the culture).
3. Spend Time In The Region
Relationships are very important in the Middle East, and they take time to develop. Once you spend some time in the region, you’ll be better able to identify important cultural nuances. For example, while speedy decisions are often valued in the United States, the decision-making process takes longer in the Middle East.
4. Keep Track Of Local Customs
Religious holidays are incredibly important and tend to move around each year. The local sheikhs play a critical role in all areas, including business; i.e. a trade show can come to a standstill because the local sheikh has to privately tour the show before it can open.
You also should understand some of Islam’s basic tenets. For example, you’ll often hear the term “Inshallah” – which means “if Allah wills” or “God willing” – used in business settings. At the very least, knowing that might put your intense business negotiations in another context.
Any new market has special challenges. In the Middle East, these include language and culture, but learning how to navigate this market is well worth the effort. With the Middle East’s growth potential and welcoming attitude toward new business, you are sure to find enticing opportunities.
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