Here’s what I have learnt as a woman business networker and entrepreneur in India:
If you really need something done and will need someone’s help, pick up the phone, give them a call and ASK. If you write them an e-mail, your chances of success are automatically reduced by 50%. Not everyone in India has time to check e-mail and even if they do, e-mail communication is not taken seriously by a majority of people.
Be forthright and let them know how exactly you would want them to help you. If they have the time and the ability to help you, they will. Very rarely will you find someone in India who will say “No, I can’t help you.” because Indians truly believe that if they put their minds to it, nothing is impossible. I have had complete strangers refer business to me because I asked them to.
If you are a woman and are going for a business meeting, dress professionally and avoid skimpy clothes – by Indian standards, a skirt in itself [ whatever the length ] is not advisable. If you’re wearing Western clothes, wear a shirt and trousers and if the buttons on your shirt are far apart, please put a safety pin in between otherwise you’ll have people staring south of your face. Indian are very unabashed when it comes to staring.
Try to make friends. How do you normally converse with friends? Even when you’re talking about serious work, there are some words that you use, which make the conversation casual. Learn some Hindi words – the moment you put a smile on the other person’s face, you’ve ensured that they will remember you.
Most Indians love to talk. Let them. When you do get a chance to talk, depending on what the other person was talking about, extend the conversation. It might not necessarily be about work. In a lot of meetings, sometimes, work never gets talked about because people in that meeting are first building relationships. If they are not comfortable making small-talk to you, there isn’t going to be any business.
Pick up that phone.
If you do send an e-mail, follow up with a phone call informing the e-mail recipient that you have sent the e-mail :).
If its possible, eat a meal instead of going for a boring boardroom meeting.
If you are meeting someone who has children, ask them about how their kids are doing. Indians love boasting about their children.
If you are doing business with an Indian who is now settled abroad, they will be more professional in terms of respecting your time and you. In India, it’s quite normal if someone makes you wait before they actually meet you – no matter what the scheduled meeting time. But if you’re non-Indian then your chances of meeting on schedule are higher than if an Indian is meeting an Indian.
In India, networking works in all spheres of life – whether you need a plumber or a husband or a business partner, word-of-mouth is king. If you do make a mistake, the best way to get it over with is to acknowledge that you screwed up and that you’re sorry. If you deny it, on the face of it you might escape a bad reputation but the gossip mills in India work overtime and before you know it, everyone in business circles will know that you screwed up and did not own up.
While more and more professionals in India are getting into online business networks, they sign-up either because someone told then that it’s the latest trend/rage/snob thing to do or because they genuinely believe in the potential of the internet and online business networking. Most will be in the former category and will actually never really use the platform unless they lose their job or want a great candidate. It would be easier to get in touch with such people if you just call up their company’s board number and ask for them instead of sending them an introduction via LinkedIn, for example.
Most of the points above might be more relevant to the small-business owners and individuals doing business in India and not so much for large corporations and established companies. Some points above might also be relevant in general business situations. There’s no offense meant to anyone, these are things I’ve experienced as I’ve done business in India and with Indian clients.