Winning China Medals – The Small Entrepreneur’s Guide to China

Posted by Reading Time: 5 minutes

CDE Op-Ed Commentary

When it comes to investing in China, everybody seems to have an opinion. Blogs telling you what to do, how to think, how they did good and how you should be like them. Some sell services, some promote egos, and others tell it plain wrong. The truth is, if you think you should invest in China, then that automatically qualifies you as an entrepreneur. And that marks you out, with or without investment capital, as a winner to start with.

Only entrepreneurs really have the inherent feeling of success in their bones. Only entrepreneurs really make things happen. From Zuckenberg to Gates, the big players who shaped today’s world had ideas, not university degrees or corporate careers. So if you don’t have those either, that’s also okay.

But there are several aspects to appreciate:

China Noise

There is a lot of noise about China. About politics, and how much different it is “to Kansas”. Blogs that routinely tell you this are missing the point. In China, you deal with humanity. And with 1.3 billion people, there is rather a lot of it here.

It’s Relatively Easy to do Business

MNCs will often discuss corporate level fraud, corruption, and market entry access issues, but these subjects don’t affect 99.9 percent of most entrepreneurs. For start out entrepreneurs, China is a blast. It is in fact an entrepreneur’s paradise – it doesn’t cost much to set up a business in China, and provided a few common sense rules are applied, it’s a good venture. China doesn’t deal with extortion or creating hassle for small players, which makes for a positive environment for small businesses.

Other Expats Can Be Your Worst Enemy

China is awash with expats who will seek to dissuade you, or even outright rip you off. A greenhorn in China with a good idea thinking that they’ll make friends could be in for a shock. Look, learn, and bide your time. There’s no rush to tell everyone your great idea.

If You Think It’s Right, It Probably Is

Someone should do a study on this, but entrepreneurs should often abide by a ‘follow your heart’ philosophy. If you want to go to China, then you probably should, because you’ll end up feeling frustrated if you don’t. And good ideas are always cool. Hard to quantify, I know, but it just is. So go for it.

Celebrate Your Failures. Because There Will Be Many

You can’t expect to get it right first time, and entrepreneurs’ biographies are full of sob stories in the early chapters. No one is immune. You will mess up, and you will spend a long time pitching for business that you ultimately fail to get. But don’t give up – analyze why you didn’t get it, and if you don’t know why, look for the reasons. Failure is still winning – if you learn from it. Each time you do, you earn a China medal.

Do Your Research Properly

People like to share experiences in China, and everyone has an opinion. Some may be good, others may be awful. Steer away from anything that smacks of cutting corners or doing anything illegal. There are some good websites out there that can answer your questions. Do your research, type your problem and look through three pages of Google answers to assess the matter. Then look for who most consistently appears, and follow them for advice.

Don’t Listen To What Other People Say 

This goes for the negatives out there.  Let your heart rule. Surround yourself with people who are positive. There’s plenty of people who will say it can’t be done, or even more personally, that you can’t do it. Don’t listen. 

You Don’t Need Lawyers. At Least Not Much

You’re an entrepreneur, so do your homework. Hiring lawyers and consultants is expensive, and advice can be case-specific and not necessarily accurate. As mentioned above, there is a plethora of material online about China, so use your search engine. Blue chip lawyers deal with the likes of Boeing and Airbus, but most I’ve met will certainly sit down with you for 20 minutes at a chamber event. However, when it’s time to press on, take counsel. China is a law and tax play, as I stated here.  

Hard Work Covers Financial Investment

A good mantra is, “Do what your competitors are not prepared to”. And if that means working to 2 AM in the morning, that is what it takes. Hard work and effort ultimately bring their rewards.  You may have to change your business model a bit in the process, but that’s okay too. You refine while other people party hard. In the end, it’ll be you who’s laughing.

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Entrepreneurs are always welcome to contact me personally for advice. Email: I was a China entrepreneur once too. And an email doesn’t cost anything either.

Chris Devonshire-Ellis
is the Founding Partner of Dezan Shira & Associates – a specialist foreign direct investment practice providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in emerging Asia. Since its establishment in 1992, the firm has grown into one of Asia’s most versatile full-service consultancies with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Vietnam, in addition to alliances in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, as well as liaison offices in Italy, Germany and the United States. For further information, please email or visit

Chris can be followed on Twitter at @CDE_Asia.

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