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Everything you need to know about doing business in Mexico

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It’s as much about who you know, rather than what you bring to the table.
By Fernando Gonzalez Climent, Founding Partner at Cuadrante Strategy & Communications

So, you’re thinking about doing business in Mexico? Maybe it was the pandemic that tipped you over the edge and made you want to drastically change your life, uproot yourself and chase that bucket list. Maybe you were already planning on retiring in Mexico and starting a small business there, or perhaps you have been steadily growing your business and are ready to take that next step by expanding into the Mexican market. 

No matter your circumstances there are certain things to keep in mind about doing business in that other North American country that will make the transition smoother for foreigners. 

It’s not about who you know but what you bring to the table 
One of the first mistakes I see foreign entrepreneurs fumble with is coming and thinking that it is all about who you know and not what you know, or how you present what you know. In Mexico, it is not as much about connections as it is what you are able to bring to the table that is different; that is true in Mexico and many other places. 

Some people think that coming into a new market is daunting and won’t know what strings to start pulling, but if you have a good offer for the market, something different that locals want – that’s more important than who you know. Of course, knowing people makes things easier and often more enjoyable. Friends and acquaintances can also help you familiarize yourself with protocols for what to expect socially and how to handle yourself. 

There is more than one Mexico 
There are different business cultures in Mexico. For example, I just hired a guy to make me some iron doors. He is old-fashioned and will say he will call you back, but he expects you to call him a few times first. So, it is important to be aware of those kinds of business behaviors. 

Then there is also a big influence from the US and Canada, which has made Mexican people learn to be more upfront and direct. Traditionally, we like to “sacar la vuelta“, which means that Mexicans probably won’t want to tell you “no” directly. Instead, they may say “sure” to a lunch invite (for example) but never get back to you. You may say let’s have lunch on Friday and if no one calls it’s understood that there were things to do. Don’t take it personally.  

Mexicans also love mixing business and pleasure. Lunch meetings with drinks can be more productive in terms of business. You have to understand that and be willing to put in the time and mingle.

And then you have to keep in mind that, traditionally, Mexicans are not always very trusting simply because historically we have been conquered and abused and there is this perception that plays into the electoral possibilities of the current administration; this has been going on since the Conquista in the early 16th century. The current government is playing on that sentiment and it has made foreign investors wary. So, I always tell my clients to be very transparent about what you are doing and what you are paying workers; make them feel they are involved in decisions and that will translate into profits for you. 

In Latin America people generally dress more formally for work than in the US, for example. However, that too is changing. Some circles like technology and communications are more relaxed. Here like in San Francisco, the tech guys go to work in sandals and Bermuda shorts. But if you are meeting with lawyers, government officials, or officers of a company you are probably going to want to wear a suit and tie, or at least a dress shirt and nice slacks (for men). And don’t be afraid to be a little fancy — Mexico is a fantastic market for luxury. 

Regardless of what we see dominating international news about Mexico keep in mind that Mexicans are quite friendly and that is one of the reasons Canadians and American’s come to Mexico and never leave. I always say that Mexico either spits you out or it swallows you whole and you can never leave. 

On that last note about how friendly people here are — don’t take that for granted. Everyone loves Mexicans but that doesn’t mean they take people here seriously and we know that. To take Mexico seriously and be successful here you need to understand our economy, our market, our diversity, and a bit of our history. 

Dealing with the current administration

 The current administration is looking to make sure big companies pay their taxes. I recommend doing that and being highly diligent about it. It seems as though as long as companies are willing to pay their fair trade of taxes and make positive social contributions then doing business in Mexico is still easier than in many other markets. That is in part because geographically we are next to the US, the second-largest market in the world after China. Geographically it makes sense. 

Finally, Mexicans are famous for being hard workers and highly qualified. So, I recommend treating them that way. Don’t expect to treat people differently than you would in your own country. 

My parting words: be dead transparent and make sure you are communicating a good offer to the market. If you are not absolutely sure how to do that then get help communicating your offer with a company that knows how to do business in different parts of the country. You will need good cultural translators and advance planning regardless of whether you are a big corporation in Monterrey or starting a small boutique in San Miguel de Allende. Make sure you know who you are talking to and how to talk to them and you’ll be fine. 

By Fernando Gonzalez Climent, Founding Partner at Cuadrante Strategy & Communications

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is climent-1.jpg
Fernando Gonzalez Climent (Photo: Cuadrante Strategy & Communications)

Fernando Gonzalez Climent is the co-founder and partner of one of Mexico’s top public relations firms, Cuadrante Strategy & Communications. You can follow him on Twitter at @fgcliment and on his profile on Linkedin

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