Preparing to export

Tips for doing business in India

No matter the country you intend to do business with, it is always beneficial to learn about the culture and how business is done.

Understanding the small differences can prevent potential business partners being offended and helps build strong relationships. The Indian business environment is not unlike our own, and there are a few tips to remember that will help your road to successful trade run smoothly.

Business in India: all about family

Indian society has very strong belief systems based on family, and these extend into business. If you are looking to try your business ideas in India, this is the first lesson you must learn. 

Up to 70% of business in India is controlled by family-owned organisations, and within organisations, it is very common for key positions to be held by family members. The organisation structure is also based on family – the CEO holds a paternal role and is looked up to and highly respected by all staff. Staff members themselves will have very close relationships and work together almost like a family.

"In developing a new business partnership, Indians see it as welcoming a new member to the family," says My Business's in-country specialist, SP Joshi. "Business people want to take time to get to know you and develop a strong, long term relationship.

"When doing business in India, you need to have a professional relationship built on a personal relationship. You must reach an understanding personally before you can start negotiating."

Get to know your business partner

A business partner is often essential in starting a business in India. In order to build a relationship, first, take time to get to know your potential business partner. During your first meeting, you may not speak of business, and in subsequent meetings do not rush – always begin by discussing topics such as the weather or cricket before turning to business.

"It takes time, but it is very important to travel to the market and spend a few days getting to know the potential business partner," says Joshi.

Indians have developed a high regard for Australia which translates into a willingness to trade.

Entertaining for business

Another important part of the Indian business culture is food. "Indians are very hospitable and want to be good hosts," says Joshi. "They will always take business partners for meals, and much business is conducted over lunch or afternoon drinks."

These invitations are used to strengthen the personal relationship. They may even extend an invitation to a meal at the family home.

"It is common to be invited to the family home for dinner," says Joshi. "Not to speak of business, but to develop a relationship with the family.

"Though Indian business people understand this is not part of Australian business culture, they will appreciate a similar treatment when they visit Australia."

Adopt a flexible approach

Once a relationship is established and business has begun, Indian business people can appear quite laid back. Many business people will forgo a suit and tie for more casual attire, and in the south, where it is hot, it is not uncommon for business people to adopt even less formal attire.

"Indian time awareness also is not as acute as ours," says Joshi. "For example, if you set a meeting for 9am, they might not arrive until 9.15 or even later."

Be clear and direct in communications

Despite this apparently casual approach, Indian business people try hard to please, and as a result, have difficulty saying no. Whether via email, phone call, or in person, being direct is key. 

"You will often hear 'I'll try my best' if you ask them to commit to a business timeline that they know they cannot meet," says Joshi. "In most circumstances, this will, in fact, mean no."

"The best way to get around this issue is to be very clear in the question. Force a yes or no answer, or to ask them what they can commit to."

Male using tablet and pen on desk learning how to do business in India

Always negotiate

When discussing business, it is also important to remember that in India, everything is negotiable. "From taxi fares to business," says Joshi, "it is important to understand how Indians negotiate because they will be expecting it."

Australian businesses are in an excellent position to trade with and export to India. Through students studying abroad and tourism, Indians have developed a high regard for Australia, which translates into a willingness to trade.

Australian businesses armed with a little knowledge of the subtle differences in business culture, and the time to commit to the market, will turn this willingness into a strong and profitable trade partnership.

Free Business Grant Finder

To start browsing over 1500 government grants worth almost $40 billion, join My Business as a free member.

Found this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive the best business tips and articles straight to your inbox.

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter. You're one step closer to receiving more insightful information to help better your business.

We take your privacy seriously and by subscribing to our newsletter you agree to the terms of our Privacy Policy available below.