5 Known Tips for Doing Business in the MENA Region

If you are thinking of starting a business in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, there are great opportunities. Many of the countries in the region are extremely business friendly and offer a wide range of options for organizing your entity. But be prepared to adjust your business style and take the special challenges of the region into consideration.

As you gear up for a launch in the Middle East or North Africa, based on our experience of operating in the region, we have distilled 5 key points you should keep in mind:

 

  1. Do Your Homework

You need some solid knowledge of the region. Plan to undertake extensive research into your targeted business sector. A viable business plan is obviously a must, and in order to develop it, you need to know about conditions on the ground. Be prepared to raise initial funding back home rather than locally, particularly if you’re new to the region and without a local track record. With a solid business plan and some initial funding already raised, you may attract local support, possibly even government investment.

 

At KnownOffice® we offer a localization strategy consultation, which includes a study of the market conditions in your chosen area, assessment of local competition and forecasting.

 

  1. Leverage Local Knowledge

In several MENA countries you are required to have a local partner. However, even when not required by law, you are often better off anyway having a local on your team. This means that an important part of your pre-launch activities is likely to be scouting for credible, local collaborators. Be it a company or an individual, your local partner can be a great help both with officialdom and local suppliers and/or distributors.

In addition to a local partner you need a good lawyer from the outset. An experienced lawyer will guide you through the registration complexities and legal help will be vital in protecting your interests. This applies whether you’re opening a modest shop or a major enterprise. As a foreigner, you’re likely to use a western/Arab joint venture law firm. When choosing, seek the advice of Chambers of Commerce and your Embassy’s commercial sections.

 

At KnownOffice® we offer Consulting and Research services at any level to suit the needs of the individual client. Based on our extensive experience and network, we can advise individuals, businesses or NGOs on strategy, feasibility, and implementation to help you with a solid plan and accrued information in your first steps.

 

  1. Learn A Little Lingo

Arabic is the Lingua Franca of the MENA Region. If you don’t speak Arabic it’s fine, but it may limit your in-country information. Having a local guide, who knows the language and culture, will make your time spent in the region easier to manage, as well as more likely to be fruitful. It will also help you, if you make an effort to learn a few words yourself. You don’t have to be fluent in Arabic to do business in the Arabic-speaking world, but being able to say ‘hello’ (as-salam aleykum or marhaba), ‘how are you?’ (keefak? or weashrak?), and ‘thank you’ (shukran) will make you come across as polite, accepting and open-minded. Moreover, in a business setting this will help show the human side of you. Language and culture go together, so in addition to learning a little Arabic, you are well advised to get up to speed on core cultural traits and local etiquette. It will help you both in your personal interactions and with assessing feasibility, local conditions and, for example, security concerns.

 

At KnownOffice® we offer the Arabomaθeia program to our clients. Arabomaθeia is a crash course in basic Arabic, cultural knowledge, and business etiquette. The courses are designed specifically for your company and the sector or country, in which you are planning to work. The courses help our clients build their presence or expand their business operations in the MENA region.

 

  1. Patience Is A Virtue

When doing business in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, you will probably meet with polite, but tough, negotiation and find local business people expert at it.  You need to be completely confident about the contents of your contractual agreements. If there are gaps, locals are brilliant at finding and exploiting them. Exposing weakness in this way is not good for your image. You will also find that a people avoid saying ‘no’. In the course of negotiating, you will have to listen and observe carefully instead of expecting a plain ‘yes’ or ‘no’. All of this takes time, so prepare to be patient. The process is a way to build trust, and the trust established on both sides will be long-lasting. The potential gains of starting and running your own business are great, but it isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need to remember that you aren’t a citizen of the country, so you need to cover all your bases.

 

  1. It Is Never “Just” Business

“It’s just business,” is often used as shorthand in the West for “Don’t take what happens in the course of business personally.” You are well advised to put this kind of thinking aside. In the MENA Region, human relationships count for a lot, and you do business with people you like. To succeed, you want to come across as professional yet approachable. The western distinction between business and personal relationships doesn’t exist in the MENA region; strong personal relationships and mutual respect are the basis of successful business relationships. Be mindful that making small talk is more than just an icebreaker. During a conversation about the weather and other seemingly innocuous topics, your suitability as a business partner is being assessed. You will find your working life in the MENA Region easier if you’re polite and patient, and remember to be yourself and authentic Smile, make compliments, and seek advice: requesting advice shows respect to the person asked. Think of it as visiting relatives in another city, when you go to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region on business. You are made to feel at home, but it is your relatives’ home, and you can’t start telling them when to eat breakfast or how to decorate their living room. Remember that you are a visitor and need to respect and adapt to your host’s culture.

In short, the secret to business in the Middle East is that H2H (human to human) is more important than B2B (business to business).

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