10 Tips for Doing Business in Germany
Our advice when starting an entrepreneurial journey
Hopefully, by now you're ready to start planning your German business adventure, but before you put pen to paper or contact the consulate to obtain a visa, let's offer some business tips in Germany that will make the process as smooth as possible.
1. Take your time
Firstly, don't hurry or assume that your venture can be up and running in a few days. For one thing, the visa can take six months to obtain, and registration can also take a few months from beginning to end. And when working with partners or investors, expect them to take a long-term perspective, building gradually. That's the standard approach in Germany, where stability is as important as rapid revenue growth.
2. Keep it formal
When attending meetings with officials or potential partners, formality matters. Germans tend to respond well to smartness and a moderate, clear way of speaking. Business etiquette in Germany also tends to foreground evidence and documents - so have well-written reports ready to present. And allow attendees to think for themselves. Don't be pushy or hurried.
3. Share your ideas
While German meetings are usually formal, there's plenty of scope to share your ideas. In fact, information sharing is encouraged, in order to reach the correct decisions. Don't be fooled by the stiffness of some cultural norms in Germany. Most corporations are flexible on the inside, and appreciate creative thinking - if it's presented well, and in keeping with general etiquette.
4. Separate your business life and private life
This is very important, and an area where German differs from some other business cultures. Small talk happens, but in German workplaces it's not normal for co-workers to discuss their personal lives. The German approach to work divides the personal and the private, so stick to professional matters.
5. Learn German
While expat-preneur culture has grown and cities like Berlin are outward-facing, almost all entrepreneurs will benefit hugely from mastering fluent German. Sometimes, specific jargon will crop up that doesn't translate easily into other languages, and many contacts will prefer to discourse in German. And - if nothing else - speaking German gives an excellent impression to the people you meet.
6. Don't be offended
It's not uncommon for foreigners to be taken aback at their first German meetings. Business communication in Germany can be very direct and blunt when discussing opinions about ideas and projects, more so than in other business cultures. So be prepared to feel a little offended - and remember that attendees are most likely speaking for your benefit. You'll soon realize that speaking your mind clearly has some major business advantages.
7. Stick to the schedule
While the German reputation for efficiency is something of a stereotype, it's definitely a theme in start-up culture, especially when dealing with officials and investors. As a rule, anticipate being held to strict deadlines, and be sure to meet those deadlines as regularly as possible. Germans hate to be let down unnecessarily (just like any business partners, really). So organize your time effectively, and master scheduling like never before.
8. Don't be late
Similarly, German business contacts won't appreciate lateness, even for networking events in social environments. Punctuality is one of the signs used by German professionals to gauge how serious people are, and it's always advisable to make a good impression with accurate timekeeping. And if you are waylaid, always have a clear explanation. It's never good enough to just leave the apartment 10 minutes before a meeting.
9. Respect personal space
Personal space is an area where business cultures vary dramatically. Some see shaking hands and embracing as key greetings or signs of agreement. Others, less so. Germany falls into the latter bracket, and most Germans will prefer to physically keep their distance. So set aside some space in meetings, and keep direct contact to a minimum - even if it is meant affectionately.
10. Obtain health insurance
Finally, and very importantly, health insurance is a core aspect of German business life (and life in general). If you are applying for a Business Visa or permanent residency, you'll need to take out health insurance in Germany. There should be affordable plans, with special packages for different age groups and situations (such as those with families). Expatrio can help you find an insurance that delivers coverage and great value.