Since tomorrow is Canada Day, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with all the non-Canucks a little more information about how to do international trade with Canada and with Canadians.
I’ve spoken with a few international trade professionals who’ve worked in different regions of the globe to get their first-hand experiences and advice.
Trading with Canadians from an American perspective
Jim Foley, FITT Board Member and Director at the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship at Bradley University, says that in his experience Canadians appreciate straight-forward dialogue. It’s also important when doing business in Canada for you to understand that there’s more to the country than just Ontario (9 more provinces and 3 territories to be exact, thank you very much).
Know enough not to ask, ‘Where is Saskatchewan?’ It also helps to show at least some level of passion for hockey.
A few other tips from Jim?
- Don’t be arrogant,
- be open,
- learn about Canada’s current events before you travel there, and
- be aware of Quebec and it’s cultural and historical perspective.
“When Canadians see the country code, they will assume that you’ve provided a localized website,” he says.
Having a country code top level domain like .ca may also help the site rank higher in Canada on search engines.
You should also host a visual global gateway on your site, he suggests. For example, Tim Hortons—a Canadian-based coffee chain that is growing in the U.S.—lists the Canada and U.S. gateway at the top of their main homepage. They also enable users to toggle between an English and French version of the site.
Is doing business in Canada the same as doing business in the U.S?
Canada may hold the record for being the United States’ largest trading partner, and it’s certainly accessible from a geographic, language and cultural perspective. But make no mistake, says Laurel Delaney (@LaurelDelaney), founder of Global TradeSource, Ltd. doing business in Canada is not the same as doing business in the U S.
“Based on my experience, the most challenging aspects of doing business in Canada are the packaging requirements, bilingual labelling (English and French), the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Canadian sales tax accounting and employment and labour laws.”
While this may all sound complicated, there are ways to overcome these challenges. Laurel shares a few from an American perspective:
- Make frequent trips and establish a local presence. In other words, treat Canada as another home office for your business.
- Looking for importers in Canada? Contact the U.S. Commercial Service in Canada, or you can get an even-faster idea of companies importing goods into Canada by product, city, and country of origin through the Canadian Importers Database on the Industry Canada site.
- In business meetings, a strong handshake is an appropriate greeting along with direct eye contact. If you become social with a colleague, it is customary in some regions of Canada to kiss on both cheeks when meeting. If someone reaches out to you in this fashion, you should let him or her kiss you once on each cheek. You don’t want to blow a potential business deal over not following protocol; go with the flow.
- As with any new country you are about to enter, do your homework on the contact organization and region well in advance of taking initiative or making an overture.
- Never compare Canada to the United States!
What does Laurel love most about Canadians?
“They are very direct and diplomatic in their communication style,” she says. “There is no need for interpretation. What is said is typically understood.”
Canadian vs. Latin American business communications
While a direct communication style might be appealing for some, to others it can be a bit off-putting and difficult to navigate.
“Canadians tend to have the desire for very straightforward communication,” agrees Gustavo Zentner, CITP|FIBP, president of International Point of Commerce (InterPOC). “But other cultures, in Latin America for example, are much more flexible. They rely on observations, and they pay attention to how a person gets their point across in order to form an impression.”
Gustavo has noticed that Canadians have a sense of urgency to identify commonalities between themselves and their foreign business associates in order to build a level of mutual comfort. Therefore, expect more direct questions and curiosity.
Business negotiations in Canada are also a lot more formal than in Latin America, he says.
Canadians like format, context and structure, and they know exactly what they plan to offer. For Latin Americans, everything is up for negotiation.
Overall, Gustavo says when you do business in Canada, you can probably expect meetings and negotiations to run on a more organized and controlled agenda in terms of content, context and timing.
So you think you know everything about Canadians, eh?
We’ve talked about some useful tips for doing business in Canada and with Canadians, but just for fun, let’s review some UN-useful tips. Here’s a compilation of some of the best Canadian stereotypes I’ve heard:
- All Canadians love hockey, beer and ice fishing. While I personally enjoy all these things (I haven’t actually been ice fishing yet, but I think I’d take a shining to it!), not everyone in Canada does. However, this MAY be a good opportunity to warn you about our high-test Canadian beer.
- All Canadians speak English and French. In actuality, about 20 percent of Canadians identify French as their mother tongue, while a total of 28 percent can speak it fluently (Statistics Canada).
- We all worship Celine Dion, William Shatner, Wayne Gretzky and Ryan Gosling. Okay, so maybe there’s some merit to one or two of these, depending on who you’re speaking with. We’re obviously proud of our Canadian talent, but please recognize that it runs much deeper than this!
- Canadians always say ‘eh’ and ‘a-boot’ (about). I really disagree, but then again, I may just be biased.
- Canadians are all afraid of the dark. I’m not sure whether this started with the TV show How I Met Your Mother, or whether it goes further back, but it’s strange and ridiculous none-the-less. In the dead of winter we have some pretty short daylight hours, so I’d say we’re used to the dark by now.
Happy Canada Day everyone, and happy trading in the Great White North!
Have a few tips of your own for doing business in Canada (or perhaps a few more hilarious stereotypes)? We’d love to hear ‘em! Comment below.