SMEs Working together in Shanghai

AustCham Shanghai’s Small-to-Medium Enterprises Industry Committee has recently received sponsorship of 10,000 RMB from Austrade Shanghai – allowing member companies to participate in special interactive events, free of charge. The cost-free element has been a special drawcard for SME business owners and operators who often run on tight budgets.

“SMEs face significant challenges in achieving business success, let alone entering new and emerging markets like China,” says Austrade Senior Trade Commissioner, Christopher Wright, from Shanghai.

“As such, Austrade, by sponsoring a regular AustCham working group that brings SMEs together to discuss ways and means to meet these challenges, sees this as a material way of assisting these firms assist themselves,” he says.

Mr Wright says SMEs continue to be a powerhouse for employment and wealth creation in Australia, and the number of SMEs coming to China continues to grow.

The group, headed by key Australian business people and entrepreneurs in Shanghai, encompasses around 80 members including 2010 Australia-China Business Award winners James Sing from Kakadu Bar and Restaurant and Susan Heffernan from Soozar design and production company.

The working group offers interactive monthly seminar events, monthly SME roundtable events on topics such as HR issues and regulatory changes, as well as emerging business opportunities in Shanghai.

The Steering Group has also created a buddy system where existing members mentor new members. This personalised approach has developed the dynamic and cohesive nature of the committee.

Past events have included presentations from ANZ China Head of Commercial Banking, Henry Moo on banking issues for SMEs and Direct HR Managing Director Michael Maeder on recruiting, incentivising and retaining staff in SMEs.

“It’s very important for SMEs in China to be part of a larger, engaged community,” says Tim Lyons, AustCham Shanghai’s Board Director responsible for the SME working group.

“More often than not, being an SME can be a very isolating experience and what we are trying to do at AustCham Shanghai is help end that isolation.”

oli_mackay_thumbSME Company Profile: Source Co

Oliver MacKay
China Operations Manager of Australian WOFE, Source Co.

The biggest challenges SMEs face when they arrive in China are Recruitment and Law: SME’s have smaller numbers of staff and must employ people for different skill sets than larger companies, which is a challenge here. Legally, the system is so fresh and seems to change every week in terms of labour law, property law, tax law… it can seem overwhelming at times. This falls under a wider challenge of cultural adaptation; you have to accept that things are just not going to work in the way that you are used to and in some ways your company must evolve to accept these changes.

One thing you need to be good at here, in China, is choosing your battles well. We have nurtured the talent available to us rather than giving in to the cyclical nature of staffing in China. This has been very beneficial to us in the long run as our staff have a much better idea of how their individual actions affect the wider company as a whole. To put it simply, we learnt that it helps to empower staff through trust rather than giving them a blinkered view of their roles.

My advice to new Australian SME businesses arriving in China is don’t be proud. Go and speak to people who have been here for a while and they will help you avoid some of the pitfalls. My company is particularly lucky to be part of the SME group at AustCham Shanghai. We have learnt so much in this environment from being around people with the same challenges as ourselves and I’d like to think that we have been able to help others there as well.

AustCham Shanghai’s SME group in particular totally redefined what it means to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce. We initially signed up to the Chamber because we thought it was just what you do, and access to the database might be useful in terms of business development, but joining AustCham’s SME group brought us (totally unexpected) tangible value in terms of a support network through which we were able to better manage the risks of doing business here. We were provided with practical advice and referrals in terms of law and government relations and the working group’s network linked us with experienced business service providers that allow us to do local business with other top-notch Australian companies.

 

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