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Turkey: Things to Know Before You Go

7.20.11

by Lesley Lyons

In our first blog on Going Global in Turkey, we presented several reasons why Turkey is a great destination for American businesses looking to enter new markets. In addition to offering the fastest growing economy in Europe and a large domestic market of more than 70 million with a median age under 29, Turkey lies in close geographic and economic proximity to many of the world’s major markets.
Despite all it has to offer, Turkey has only recently started to receive the attention it deserves as a hot spot for foreign investment. As such, few Americans know what to expect when visiting Turkey let alone how to determine if it may be the right market for their business. Here are a few pointers to help you get started on your quest for Turkish lira.

Be part of a trade mission. No matter where you are considering taking your business, it just makes sense to visit the country (or city or state) before you make a decision. Taking part in a trade mission is a great way to not only see the country but also better understand the Turkish people, specifically businesspeople. A trade mission often provides the opportunity to meet with key contacts from Turkish businesses, government officials, trade specialists and U.S. executives already operating in Turkey. Organizations such as Atlanta’s Istanbul Center, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast coordinate several trade missions each year, providing delegates with important networking opportunities and market intelligence to help them successfully expand into this dynamic market.

Evaluate the competition. One of the attractions of Turkey for U.S. companies is its growing consumer base. But no matter how appealing your product or service may be to the Turkish people, it will be hard to establish yourself if there are several competitors already up and running. That is why it is important to perform an extensive competitive analysis and benchmark against comparable established companies. You have to understand who your competitors would be and how you would compete before you move forward. It is also important to understand your target consumer base. Visiting the country and spending time with the Turkish people will help you better understand the culture, but you should also conduct meticulous market research and analyze consumer characteristics, demographics, buying patterns and habits.

Consider a Turkish business partner. Most experts agree that the best way for American businesses to enter the Turkish market is through partnerships, acquisitions and/or close alliances with local firms. A joint venture or other type of partnership will make entering Turkey quicker and easier. Plus, the flexible, entrepreneurial spirit of the Turkish people is a strong complement to the systematic, efficiency-oriented traits of American businesspeople, resulting in a strategic combination that fosters long-term success. If you choose to establish a partnership, you have to be patient and find the right one.
In addition to spending time getting to know the country and its approach to business, it is also very important to understand the people, culture and business etiquette. By acquiring cross cultural skills, you can maximize your chance of success in Turkey. Below are a few tips on how best to present yourself to Turkish clients, colleagues or customers.

Show respect for different beliefs. The most important thing an outsider can do is to show respect for Turkish cultural and religious practices. For example, when it comes to alcohol, let your host or hostess offer it in social situations. And make sure you time your visit or travel outside of Ramadan or “Ramazan” as it is known in Turkish. It is very hard to get into contact with many Turkish people, especially government officials, during this month.

Give a good handshake. When you greet or are introduced to a Turkish man, always shake hands firmly. It is not customary to shake hands when you leave, but it may be practiced occasionally. In the business world, most women will shake hands with men although this may not be the case in Eastern or rural Turkey where people are more conservative. If you’re not sure, wait for a female to extend her hand. Elders are highly respected in Turkey, so when you are being introduced to a group of people, it is important to first shake hands with the one who appears to be the oldest. Also be sure to stand up and greet elders when they enter a room.

Whatever you do, don’t… Avoid saying “hello” or “good morning” to people you have not met as this is not practiced and they may get the wrong impression. Don’t display the soles of your shoes or feet to someone as it is considered an insult; keep both feet flat on the ground when sitting. For women, it is generally impolite to cross your legs while facing another person. When facing or talking to someone, try not to cross your arms or put your hands in your pockets. Don’t move your head from side-to-side to communicate “no” as this is a common Turkish gesture for “I don’t understand.” In fact, Turks move their heads vertically and backwards to say “no.” Finally, it is considered rude to point your finger directly at someone (just like it is in the U.S.)

Focus on building relationships. When doing business in Turkey, the objective of the first few meetings should be to build relationships. It is important for the Turkish people to do business with people they like, trust and believe can provide a long-term relationship. The Turks are proud of their country and their families so they will appreciate and enjoy answering questions about their culture, history and children. Try to avoid discussions on political history – talk about soccer, the national sport of interest, instead.

Enjoy a good meal and don’t split the bill. The Turkish people enjoy food, and sharing a meal with someone is an opportunity to relax and get to know one another. It is very likely you will visit many restaurants while in the course of establishing your business or trade. In Turkey, the host always pays for the meal and splitting the bill is a foreign concept. You may offer to pay, but you will never be permitted, so don’t push the issue. The best policy is to graciously thank your host and then reciprocate by hosting the next meal. If your guests try to pay when you are the host, do not give in no matter how long or loudly they insist.

Decide on your choice of entry. One of the advantages of doing business in Turkey is the liberal foreign investment regime. Foreign companies who establish a business in Turkey are considered Turkish companies and are entitled to the same rights as those granted to Turkish-owned companies. With no limitations on foreign ownership percentage or control, the main decision you may face is your choice of entry. The most popular choice for foreign businesses entering Turkey is a corporation or a limited liability company, but you may also establish a branch, representative office or a joint venture. No matter which direction you choose, you should enter Turkey with a long-term commitment and not to make a “quick buck.”
By no means are the above pointers comprehensive. Turkey is a country with a rich heritage, unique culture and considerable potential for U.S. companies that take the time to really understand its land, people and way of life. Respecting the traditions of the people in a country where you are the visitor is not only the right thing to do, but will also lead to a much more enjoyable and lucrative experience.

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