Last updated: 17:00 / Monday, 7 October 2013
Column by Jonathan Rivas

To be or not to be in Latin America

To be or not to be in Latin America

Although my last name might give me away as a Latino, I grew up in Washington, DC; thus conducting business in the Latin American has been as foreign to me as to anyone else from outside the region.

After four years of working and traveling across the southern cone, I have developed a set of guidelines to follow when conducting business around the region, and here are my top five reasons TO BE conducting business in Latin America.

1.  Be There.

One of the most important aspects of generating business in Latin America is the “Confianza,” or confidence.   You have to gain the trust of future clients, investors and business partners and the only way to do it is by showing commitment and presence. You can surely try the angle of impressing them by calling from your New York or London office, which I myself tried back in 2009, but being present with boots on the ground opens up more doors than any phone call could.

2.  Be Connected.

Connections and references are everything in the region.  It is always good to have a reference from a friend, client or business partner when conducting business in Latin America. Remember this is a region that sees companies and people coming all the time, and they want to be sure any investment or business they are conducting with you is long term. I came to Argentina with very few contacts and references, and it took me and my business partners almost 9 months to land our first serious client. Till this day, my references are my top way of landing meetings and closing deals with new clients.

3.  Be Local.

Anytime I have started doing business in any country, one of my biggest fears is to be perceived as a “Business Tourist”. The main mistake I have seen peers (or competitors in my favor!) make is to assume business stereotypes in the region and assume processes are conducted in the same way it is in the US or Europe. Being local in business means more than learning Spanish or Portuguese; it means learning about the local rules and regulations of the businesses we are offering.  This means truly understanding  both the competition and the specific regional needs. I offer the same services in Latam to local clients that I do to my US-based clients, but the delivery, execution, and personalization is always different. It might be as simple as the client only needing half of your offerings, or as complicated as adhering to extremely specific local regulations.  Whatever the case may be, you must know it first instead of your clients informing you.

4.  Be the Expert.

Being the foreign businessman might just be the best selling point and attribute you can use as part of your business development. Being prepared in any meeting and showing you can add value to clients might not be enough in Latin America. Be one step above, and show your expertise in your field of business. After all, any client you are prospecting is also receiving a telephone calls from someone in London, Luxembourg, and another firm just like your’s in the US telling them they can get the job done from afar.  I prepare for my meetings by researching who my future client is currently doing business with, the reasons why they have chosen their current business partners and how I add value to relationship. Hint: Letting them know you came to them locally instead of calling them from far away sometimes wins half the meeting, hence my first point.

5.  Be Happy.

Chances are your company is looking to expand businesses with clients and investors in Latin America. These countries are becoming extremely wealthy, savvy and welcoming, and I can hardly think of a better time than now to enter the region. If your company is appointing you as the next business developer for the market, make sure you want to be conducting business here, as there are challenges and it is not for everyone. If it is for you, try the make the most of it and have fun! You will be working, but remember that this is the region where it’s ok to be 15 minutes late, wherelunch meetings last 3 hours and where your future clients will open up their doors of their homes for you in the weekends.

So get ready, get involved, and get your boots on the ground.  Currently no other region possesses the opportunities and energy that Latin America lends to both the international business and investor.  There will surely be a stumbling block or two along the way, but with the appropriate market knowledge it will be more than worth it and will pay off quickly.