Business in China: 13 Western Habits You Should Give Up?

Successful Businessmen in China all have a Mindset that allows them to Win in China, even against bigger players.

What Western CEOs, Entrepreneurs, and Managers should Give Up to Win in China?

Western Companies (you may notice) have a lot of problems in China, and most of them meet fierce competition and have a lot of problems when it comes to adapting. The most successful US startups have almost all failed in China, Top International Companies do not really make money in China, and the majority start to Make money after 5-10 Years of Business operations in China.

China is an Eldorado (Still an Eldorado ) But … Western Cow Boys should adapt to the local Chinese Rules.

Business in China what should you Give up in China?

1. Give up the Reflection Period and Move Fast

In China, you need to think fast, make Fast Decisions, and Move fast.

It is not the Biggest Fish that Wins it is the fastest one, everything is moving fast and the most successful companies are able to adapt fast and develop Business, Technology, and operations in line with the breakneck speed of developments.

You might not know how these Chinese Companies can do it but…

  • Within one night they can put 100 000 bikes in Shanghai.
  • In 1 night they can copy the latest iPhone model.
  • In one month, they can have 10 000 new retail shops in the country.
Business in China

Business in China

European Companies in China are especially lost… It takes them 6 months to make a decision, and 6 months to think of their strategy.

And after, they discover that everything has changed in China. The Communication strategies are not the same, price and cost are different, Chinese Consumer’ habits change …

Learn more: Best Strategies to do business in China

You live in China, you know that… Everybody knows that.

In Europe, they do not realize…

Give up Procrastination, if you do not do it today in China, just forget it… You pass on opportunities.

2. Give Up Your Perfectionism

  • You can never have perfection in China
  • Perfection costs too much in China
  • Chinese Consumers are used to Non-Perfect Services and Goods
  • In China, you need to Move fast, adapt fast, and strive to be perfect will rarely equal Success. Nothing will ever be perfect in China, no matter how much you try. Accept that imperfection can allow you to Move & Develop.

Chinese top Businessmen are not afraid of failure, this fear often prevents you from taking action…But a lot of opportunities will be lost if you wait too long.

PS: I am lucky to not be a Perfectionist in China, I know most of them to suffer.

3. Give Up Believing In The “Magic Formula.”

Business in China
Business in China

“In China, you should do that, in China, you must do that” does not work all the time and every situation is different.

There are no ultimate experts in the Chinese Market. You do not have the Perfect Solution for Your Company. Accept to try and make mistakes…

In China, everything is moving so fast, it is always a case of timing.

  • The Magic Formula of Taobao (2014) is not valid in 2017. (10 000 Chinese E-Commerce Websites fail to Copy the Taobao Business Model )
  • Top Growth Hacking strategies of Wechat (2015) is not valid for the Next App
  • The Success story of Starbucks is difficult to reproduce in 2018.

I do not believe in overnight success in China, I believe in trying & learning to adapt fast…

Successful Chinese know that making small continuous improvements every day will give results.

4. Give Up The Fixed Mindset and Adapt to the Chinese Market

If you adapt to China, China will not adapt to you.

I repeat this every day to my (foreign Team) and my Clients. Completely launching a full approach in the Chinese Market costs too much money for 99% of companies.

  • You should keep your Western DNA but Adapt, Change.
  • You should adapt to your Customer’s Needs
  • You should adapt to the Competition
  • You should accept the Rules (Government Rules)
  • You should Understand your Chinese Team’s Way of Thinking
  • Understand their strength and their weakness

Business in China: People with a fixed mindset will usually fail in China if they are arrogant if they think they can succeed in China without changing their Business model or Management Style.

Successful Expats know this. They invest an immense amount of time on a daily basis to understand Chinese culture, and their mindset, acquire Mandarin knowledge and t learn communication skills to perform in China.

In China, who you are today is not who you have to be tomorrow. Adapt or Die…

This is Business in China

5. Give Up Your Need to Control Everything

I know in Europe you can control everything… and I know it works well like this.

You want to Control Everything in China, Wrong idea. Chinese Business & Management is Time-consuming (trust me).

Which Top Successful Chinese Leaders can say they control everything in China? No One…

Business in China Rules

It is Difficult to Control everything in China, and you have to accept that you cannot understand everything and let professionals that you trust take that control & work in your interests.

Detach from the things you cannot control, and focus on the aspects you are good at & which will help you perform better.

I know, many people control everything and perform well, every case is different and there is no ultimate expert, but rather a learning process based on your specific brand experience (Rule number 3).

6. Give Up Excuses

“Stop finding Excuses for the Non-success of your project”. Your competitors can do it, so why can you not?

Stop the Excuses, and be honest with yourself... Why do I fail and how can we solve these problems?

Successful people know that they are responsible for their Projects, no matter their success or failure.

I always say this to my Staff… and the Chinese understand this very well.

“Losers find Excuses and Winners Find Solutions. ”

(Expats in China are champions for making Excuses… )

7. Give Up Your Need To Be Nice

  • if you want to Win in China you will have enemies
  • If you want to make people constantly happy, do not be a leader… sell Icecream.
  • You need to understand Chinese Respect leaders and understand that Leaders Sometimes take a decision that is not always beneficial for all parties. It can be strange but the Chinese like Strong Individuals, they like leaders. And leaders in China are not always pleasant characters. I do not advise you to be a monster but you have to say “Kaolu yixia” or “xiang yixiang”. Be Polite but let them respect you
  • (most) Chinese Do not respect Nice People, they take advantage of them
  • Most Chinese People Respect Strong Personalities…

Many people will disagree I know… there is no Magic Formula in China (rule 3).

Business in China is quite simple no?

8. Give Up Your Long-term Strategy (for your Business in China)

In China, everything changes so fast, stop making your 5-year Business Plan, it does not work.

The future is changing …  changing too fast

Successful people set long-term goals of the course.

=> But for a Companies focus on the Present and the Short-term. 1-2 years is already good.

But I know that Successful Chinese business people have a clear Yearly Target and adapt it every 6months.

  • Who is able to predict the Future of China in 5 years?
  • Who is planning their investment in the next 2 years… Almost every Great Chinese Company.
  1. We Setup Long term target of +200% per Year
  2. But How to do it, Yearly Plan

Many people will not have the same opinion as me… All companies are different. Rule Number 3.

9. (in the Business in China) Give Up the Old Economy

I know you trust Concrete goods, Shops, buildings, and cash… but in China it is Different.

Chinese Consumers are more Digitalized than any other in the world.

They Buy Online, Shop Online, Watch TV online, Date Online, Read Online, Book Online & Pay Online.

They socialize largely online and you still believe in your Old Offline Way of Doing Business?

We repeat this every day in our articles, Online is ALWAYS your first priority before developing an offline strategy.

10. Give Up Your Theory, and Be Pragmatic

You may have read a lot of Marketing Theories and researched expert theories.. but (in Business in China) you have to start from the ground upwards in China and stay pragmatic. You learn from the Consumers, your clients your suppliers, your Ayi, from your Chinese colleagues & friends and you adapt… Be as pragmatic as the Chinese, do not think too much, do not come in with too many Cliché, preconceived ideas but focus on what works and avoid what does not work.

11. Give Up “Superficiality” and Be Results Driven

Most Companies in China, are focused on little Details, and little mistakes instead of analyzing what actually brings Results.

Most Founders are focused on their Image, instead of Real Results.

  1. If a Solution is not perfect on paper but works, you should keep at it and improve it, instead of Stopping.
  2. Instead of Thinking about what’s going wrong, you should focus on what works.
  3. Before Magnifying Brands, think about why Chinese clients actually buy brands.

I know that in Europe, Politics is quite important to Companies. In China, it is Toxic and does not make sense.

“You perform or others beat you”. Pretty simple Rule no?

12. Give Up Wasting Time

You have the feeling that you work a lot, you have the feeling that you must work 12 hours work per day … but in fact, you are not efficient and you know it.

  1. China Management will waste your time
  2. Chinese Business Will waste your time
  3. Chinese Administration will waste your time
  4. Visas will waste your time
  5. Ordering a Taxi will waste your time
  6. Negotiation will waste your time

You have so many Toxic habits that waste your time in China, you need to identify them and Optimize your efficiency.

  • Outsource everything that does not bring value.
  • Find trustful people, train them, and stop them from wasting time
  • Find Reliable partners and outsource this.

Example: Many Clients choose to have their own Marketing Team & even they do not understand Chinese Marketing.

Never forget these Business Rules

Can everybody write Wechat and Weibo Articles no? 

What happens…

  1. They Waste their time recruiting people,
  2. They place great faith in them…
  3. and most of the time they are not experts (Social Media is not only about writing)
  4. They waste their time understanding how it works
  5. They waste their time training them
  6. And waste their time trying to control their job & workload.
  7. … and they discover that it is Time-Consuming and not efficient … No views, no engagement, and No results. 6months Lost
  8. Then they use Professional Agencies that bring Results, exposure, engagement, etc…

Why are Professional agencies better? it is because we only focus on Social Media. We are professionals, we train our team and outsource the aspects we do not understand like Finance, Design office, or CRM.

“The trouble is, you think you have time in China but you don’t! “

Control your Time, you have only 12 hours of work per day   😉

12. Give Up Always Trust People

I know in Europe you first Trust People and sometimes they betray you.

In China, People do not trust People, they Build “trust” (Business in China is based on Trust)

That is how everything works here… Nobody trusts each other, they need to evaluate the Trustability of each part of a relationship.

  • A Boss does not trust his New employees, they have to work hard to win the trust
  • The consumer does not trust a new Company, they have to prove that their products are good.
  • You do not trust your fruit merchant when he says he will give you the best price, but later when he knows you, he will give you the best price.

I know I am not an optimist person… I am just a realist. You do not trust, you have to be cautious.

Most Chinese Know that You have too many Cheaters in China, and you have to double-check everything.

“Chinese People are Honest With True Friends, and take advantage of Every Opportunity”

Many underdeveloped countries have the same reflex….

Many people will totally Disagree and think I am becoming a Toxic Expat, but I told you I am not an Expert (Rule number 3 ).

13. Last Tip…Understand Before Judging

In China, I strongly recommend you Understand first the situation and after, you can judge or not.

  1. If your Competitors are doing this, Maybe they have a reason.
  2. If People React like this, it is for a Reason
  3. If Chinese People are like this, it is because of a specific Reason.

China is Different, they get a different education, have a different Background & live a Different Experience from Yours.

And if you want success, understand first, think, and then adapt to the Situation.


I know this Article is not perfect, but I give you 10 years of Experience in China.

  • Do you like it? Please share it on Linkedin, Twitter … on your website
  • If you really like it, give me a nice Comment.
  • Do you want to criticize me? (read Tip number 13 first )
  • Do you think I am an expert and will change your Business? (read Tip 3 first )
  • If you want to Add me on LinkedIn or Wechat (ID GentlemenAgency)  you are welcome.
  • Do you want to drink a coffee with me? Are you sure (First Read Tip number 12 ).


  • Great article, i read this just today, and it make my day.
    give up your old mindset, and create a new one to fight in the middle of the new battlefield: China

  • zhenhua Shao

    China is so easy a market, actually!We people have so much in common, why so many
    just focus on those differences? As things in common already can bring you to what you want to persue, as some call it a success . Haha…

  • Katherine Yao

    I do agree with the FAST part, because there is an old Chinese saying 天下武功唯快不破. I am quite curious about how you made these conclusions

  • greek in CHINa

    China is not an easy market, but it is good because every foreigner has more chance in a rare Environment.

    I agree to many of your Remark, and enjoy reading this article, really enjoy…

  • AlexANDER

    China has a great habit of making business leaders , successful pragmatic Entrepreneur , China will eat the world.
    US will soon lost his Super power

    • Olivier

      Yes China produce one billionnaire every week, and Business men are Pragmatic, but I will not underestimate US , it is a great country, full of Successful Businessmen, and create also successful new Businesses every year.

  • hello, great article. Love that.
    I am small tradesman of organic essential oils food / cosmetic from Morocco (oiles of olives-oiles of argan-oils of rose-oils orange flower-saffron …) seeks a commercial partner for exploitation of my activity .

    • Olivier

      Hello MR,
      Please contact us, and let find a way to help you. 😉

  • Daniele

    Rules Number 1 and Number 3 makes this advices unusuefull nowaday. Rule not wroten use us as marketing agency. From my 8 years experience i found few advices common cliché, but are also great insight of the chinese market.

    • Olivier

      Of course, many rules can be taken in many Countries in the World Daniele. to be honest I just know Chinese Business … nothing much about other countries, so difficult to speak about.
      Rule number 1 is extremely useful in China… and you should care about Rule number 3 ….

  • Good Analysis about Chinese Market……….Yes it is Right China is so Fast , make Fast Decisions and Move fast.

  • Adnaanjinwala

    I am an Indian living and owning a business in China. Quite a few rules also apply to Taiwan. I really like your understanding of Chinese business culture and the humour u described it with. Very helpful article.

  • Yes, China is changing fast! … Remember that points, because all your 12 points above will also change soon… because i believe in the right thing to do, not the wrong thing to do just because its successful at this initial stage (where it’s still changing ~ not stable).. 12yrs in Shanghai trying to train people to do the right thing..

    • Olivier

      Of course, I beleive that next Year these Business Rules will be out of date… and have to create new Rules. haha.
      This year, we train successfuly our staff to do the right thing. 😉
      Happy to share with you Calvin…

  • Great summary Olivier. Would add from personal experience and observation (listening helps less as our China teams rarely speak up in meetings, especially if it is international and even if they do, it is extremely measured and hence would not reveal the real insights) – our China colleagues love to be ultra modest, understate and over deliver, not be boastful even pusing at times that it looks artificial as they are fiercely competitive. Never try and push through their throats what they are not comfortable with ( they will most probably not say no if are the boss).

  • As a startup founder, I really enjoy to read this article, and agree at 150% of what you say, I know i should not watse my time of that, but so good to know a guy like you Olivier. I add you on WeChat keep in touch and drink a virtual Coffee… 🙂

    • Olivier

      Sure. Let enjoy a Coffee one day … maybe during the Summer

  • As an Asian startup owner in China, my observation was about paying extreme attention to the needs for their business. Chinese businessmen and women seldom explain their complex business problems to anyone therefore we have to be super sensitive to all their issues. Because behind each problem, there’s a network of complex problems leading to it. If one can understand and fully get what they are trying to say or do without having them explaining in a long form story, you are king. The key is to listen, deep. We sometimes spoke too soon and preferred to listen to ourselves more. 2 cents worth. 🙂

  • Kjeld Friis Munkholm

    I have been working and living in China for 20 years now and in my opinion you have not wasted your 11 years here by not learning anything.

    • Olivier

      Thank you for this Compliment. I try to learn… and in Business you learn or die no?

  • i will have to admit , i did NOT waste my time reading this article, great tips !
    thank you Olivier for your efforts .

  • CHENEY yang

    Quite agree with some of the tips from a Chinese local’s sight. Like people build “trust” instead of trust each other at first, but I think maybe it’s more of a common sight in most of the countries. Besides there’s no such solution for every situation is really indeed.
    And good luck with your business 🙂

  • Wilfried Schrupp

    Straight to the point, crisp and clear. Couldn’t agree more. Business in China follows its own rules. Thanks for sharing your insights, Oliver.

  • A small note – should you by some freak accident forget your EU styles of working, lifestyle, beliefs, eating habits, attitude, integrity, honesty and become or slip into the shoes and dress with the the phiosophy of the chinese then you have a small but better chance than everyone. That’s if you want 100% of the pie. But if you want just a small percentage of a big profitable cashflow and your Chinese partner gets the rest then you can get to the finish line very quickly. The bigger the share you want the slower it all goes.

  • Jukka ahvonen

    After 20 years of doing business in China and learning some of the aspects through the hard way, I have to say, that you have truly found the keys to success. Great article, Olivier!

  • jamilla chen

    I’m a Taiwanese who used to work in China and still deal with China operation on my current position. It’s a very realistic and well-structured article. Even as a Taiwanese we speak Mandarin just like Chinese do, there are lots of differences no matter it’s linguistic or cultural aspect. Thanks for the sharing. Just write to show how much I appreciate the article.

  • Glory Leng

    Hahaha :D, honestly I do like it :)……most of the rules you made are right! you do deeply know China 🙂

  • it is just a great amazing article . congrats 🙂

  • Good stuff, underline every point. Fast – Faster – China

  • Good article, I See point number 12 repeated twice. Any reason..?

  • Agree with many points. Building trust, understand, and I would add be brave. Just do it and adjust it on the way. Here is about feeling more than strategy. You have no time. If you do not rent an office now, after several hours another one will do it and you will lose it thinking. So basically I act on instinct and feeling with people. It is good so far. I lost many opportunities thinking and trying to fight the way. Not anymore. Enjoy your rides people. 🙂

  • Hello. Very interesting article. As Chinese with 15 years working as senior manager in Foreign company , I would say, 50% are right,30% due to pessimist, 20% still need to be further discussion . -1) trust from both sides, lots of foreigners are easily changed from one side to another side by occasional cases, from nice and kindness to very demanding and defense. 2) some of foreigners are too proud. They do not see how today Chinese life, 3) some of foreigners think Shanghai and Beijing, Shenzhen a few rich cities are as true faces of China. Etc. anyway, the analysis of difference is very meaningful for most of foreign company in China.

    • Daniele

      Lilly, most western people that never been in China think the opposite. They think most of chinese are who still lives in the rural places. Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, business speaking are all that matters for the first run. It,s totally normal, like Milan for UK, London for England, Tokyo for Japan.

  • Thank you for at least four slaps in the face: 1, 2, 8, 10.

  • An additional comment to Tip 12: even though you don’t trust the employees behave like they are trusted.

  • Well written in humorous form. Great way to get the true message of doing business in China. 11 years of experience tells me so!!

  • Gabriel

    Looks like you need a solid editor to help with English punctuation, grammar, and style – get in touch and we can talk about cooperating 🙂

    • Caroline

      You are 100% correct, Gabriel! Reading the article was a waste of time, something the Chinese do not do. It’s a pathetically written article by a very idle human being!

    • Ummm…pertinent comment which makes me think about nothing related to the content of this articke. People concerned will get what Olivier said. The other, obviously not.

    • Olivier

      Hi Gabriel, Can you tell us where excatly ?

  • Excellent article! I’ve been trying to find the “magic formula” for two years and adapt to the market. It is essential for foreign companies understand that what works in America or Europe, possibly in China, will have to change the strategy.

  • Some of the Tips sound funny at first but based on my 11+ years in China i generally find some truth in all of the Tips. Recommend to read, understand and adapt a.s.a.p.
    And yes.. China is changing super fast.

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