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Q&A: Navigating Cross-cultural Negotiations with International Business Partners

Audra Hamlin has learned a lot since August 2012, when she launched Elmhurst, Ill.-based HKCMedia Inc., a firm that specializes in international business and media solutions. She's gained knowledge around sending and receiving international payments, including using foreign exchange services and reading exchange rates. She's mastered the art of international consulting and learned how to conduct business overseas with clients in Australia and the U.K. In addition, she's learned how to navigate the cultural divide - particularly the intricacies associated with international negotiations.

What types of negotiating have you done since you started?

Hamlin:  I do a lot of consulting, and a lot of it is integrating products from other countries into the U.S. The biggest negotiation was my monthly rate for an Australian product, plus a percentage of sales. So, that was probably my most intense negotiation to date because it started out as an hourly rate. On the other side, I'm negotiating with buyers in different places to get the products in for my clients.

So far, what have you discovered about negotiating with international business partners?

Hamlin:  They are all very open to Skype meetings - not feeling the need for in-person negotiating sessions or all the formality.

Establish a line of communication so they know you have good intentions, and if there’s any kind of cultural barrier or communication barrier, that is something you can overcome.

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As far as negotiating, I have found that it is a lot different in a lot of different countries. Learning those nuances is very, very important. For example, my experience has been that in Australia they are straightforward and hardworking and negotiations are to the point. My experience negotiating with one business partner [in another country] is that everything is negotiable at all times. Even once we decided on pricing and what work would be done, he kept trying to renegotiate.

Have you run into cultural differences or misunderstandings with any of your international business clients?

Hamlin: [In one country I work in], I've found that I had a little bit of cultural misunderstanding with me being a female. They weren't quite sure - was I female? And was there somebody else in the company they needed to speak to? I learned to understand and respect other cultures and to keep their customs in mind during conversations.

What are some negotiation strategies you would give to other business owners that work with clients overseas?

Hamlin: Establish a line of communication so they know you have good intentions, and if there's any kind of cultural barrier or communication barrier, that is something you can overcome. Any kind of cultural issues that we've had - if I used the wrong word - we always kind of laugh about it, so that kind of lightheartedness is really the best way to deal with it.

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Since starting your business, what have you learned about making international payments to vendors overseas?

Hamlin: Foreign exchange has been the easiest way to make payments. But, there's also the conversion rate: In some countries, U.S. dollars are worth more than their currency; in others, it's worth less. Also, my customers are charged on their end, and I'm charged on my end. Understanding that has been a challenge. The first couple times that happened, I was not prepared. There are fees charged to me and these need to be added in prior to bidding a job and billing an invoice. This did affect my bottom line in the beginning since I was not aware of the fees for using a foreign exchange service. Now I make sure to add that in prior to billing. 

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USD 69.1780 1.3128 0.7872 53.3650 1.0000 0.8808
CAD 52.6620 1.0000 0.5993 40.6280 0.7609 0.6706
AUD 50.0830 0.9505 0.5700 38.6390 0.7236 0.6378
EUR 78.4920 1.4897 0.8933 60.5560 1.1342 1.0000
GBP 87.8300 1.6669 1.0000 67.7600 1.2692 1.1185

Example: 1USD = xx INR

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