What Is It Like to Do Business in Spain and Latin America?

By OptiLingo

What Should You know About the Spanish Business Culture

Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Spain is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Spanish language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, if you want to do business in Latin America or Spain, it helps to understand the proper business protocols even before you begin talking to any potential partners.

Doing Business

Latin America is continually working to diversify their business community and increase foreign investment, in efforts to counteract low oil prices, but there are many obstacles to overcome. The laws in Latin America make the process more time consuming and corruption is still a major problem. In addition, the cost of security to operate in some areas of Latin America are higher than average.

In general, efforts to set up shop in Latin America can be hampered by the above mentioned factors, among other things. It takes a lot of time and patience. You won’t be able to jet in with a handshake to seal the deal after a few emails and Skype sessions. Business ventures will require numerous meetings, networking, and time to make the right connections, before you even get to the actual business deal. Not to mention unanticipated issues that may surface. It can be very frustrating and trying, even for the most dedicated business person.

You can start the process by getting in touch with the business attaché in your country’s consulate in Latin America for assistance. They will normally have a current listing of local companies that offer legal advice, and the ability to generate and translate contracts. You should also contact the local Chamber of Commerce.

Who you know and the connections you have in Latin America is still a main factor in determining the success or failure of a business venture; it is just as important as what you have to sell. You will have to put in the time, however long it takes, to network and meet with people face to face, if you want to get your business up and running and achieve any level of success. The key is to locate people who can set up a meeting with decision makers or other top level people in the company, the movers and shakers so to speak.

Etiquette of Booking Meetings

The people of Latin America and Spain take their leisure time very seriously and little to no business is conducted over the weekend, on public holidays, or during long holiday seasons such as Christmas, New Year, Carnival, and Easter. When scheduling business meetings, you should keep this in mind. Friday afternoon is probably not a good time either.

The best time of day to schedule a meeting is mornings, and the first meeting is usually used to get acquainted instead of dealing with the actual business at hand. This is also the case for meetings held during lunch hours. Larger companies may invite you to a breakfast or lunch meeting with a group of executives and decision makers, to discuss business over coffee and a pastry or local fare.

Likewise, an invitation to dinner from a business associate during your first time in the city will more than likely be due to hospitality, and not an attempt at a business transaction. It is important to exhibit professionalism at all times, even if you continue a dinner date with a night on the town. The etiquette in Latin America and Spain in the case of an invitation, is for them to cover expenses. You may offer to pay the bill, but under no circumstances should you suggest paying for only your portion, as this would be viewed unfavorably, and you as being cheap. If your host is firm about paying, don’t keep insisting, as this may cause offense. You should graciously accept and you can take care of the invitation and bill the next time.

A Different Perspective on Punctuality

There is a perception that people in Latin America and Spain do not take punctuality seriously, but still expect you to be on time or to call and explain any delay. There is some truth in this, as some Spanish people do not share the same concept of time as other countries do. Being late is normally not considered discourteous, and deadlines are often viewed as objectives to be met when possible, but are not viewed as obligatory. The attitudes in Latin America and Spain are a bit more laid back, especially in smaller towns, so a late start to a meeting is not a big deal, but everyone is still expected to be on time.

A foreign business person should always be on time regardless, but not before the start time. You should factor in all the things you normally do, such as traffic, and allow extra time as more than likely, you won’t be familiar with the area or commute. You may have to wait, or reschedule for another day, “mañana” is the term often used. This may be the norm, nothing out of the ordinary for the area, so it should be taken in stride. Although this may be frustrating or annoying, keep your emotions in check and don’t show any signs of irritation. Also, be sure to leave your schedule open for these type of situations.

Dressing for Success

The dress code for business related meetings and events in Latin America and Spain is formal for both men and women. Men normally wear dark colored two-piece, and sometimes three-piece, suits with ties. Women wear a variety of combinations similar to the corporate dress of the US and Europe. Business suits, skirts, jackets, and trousers are all appropriate. Women take care to wear conservative clothing that doesn’t attract any attention to their body, making sure their skirts are below the knee, and makeup is light. The outfits are usually very well put together and often designer brands with matching accessories. Business attire sometimes signifies one’s level of authority and great care is taken to dress properly and appropriately.

Breakfast and lunch meetings should also be considered formal, unless otherwise noted. Evening events or dinner are usually formal as well, but depending on the venue, you may be able to wear a bit of color or a modest cocktail dress. For all business occasions, it’s important to be well put together, from head to toe. When in doubt, just follow what your host is doing. For example, it may be considered inappropriate in some situations to wear a tie without a jacket or to remove your jacket once seated, but if your host does, it should be fine for you to do it too.

Spanish Business Etiquette

A Right Way to Disagree in Business

Any disagreements between associates while doing business in Latin America and Spain should be handled pretty much the same way you would in countries like the US or UK, but with more patience. Things move rather slowly in their legal system and judicial rulings are unpredictable at times. If you have an issue with contracts or payments, deal with it as soon as possible. It’s crucial that you maintain a relationship with a local attorney or firm that can give you legal advice when you need it, as court proceedings over a contract issue can be very lengthy and the judiciary is not always impartial to outside influences.

As you are going through the process of starting your business and developing relationships, try to keep in touch with your partners on a regular basis to keep everything flowing smoothly. You will be better able to quickly resolve any problem or disagreement that arises long before there’s a need to involve lawyers and courts. This will usually mean a closer working relationship than you would have with a business partner in the UK or US, requiring a lot more of your time.

A Familiar Management Style

Latin America and Spain have strict labor laws but management style and hierarchy is similar to that of America and many other countries; the pyramid style of the boss and several levels of management. Foreign managers should familiarize themselves with the local rules and laws regarding outsourcing, contracts, maternity leave, disciplinary procedures, and termination. Similar to the American style of management, a businessperson managing staff in Latin America and Spain will be expected to maintain the appropriate distance, while displaying enough empathy so employees feel comfortable enough to approach him or her with any concerns. Titles and formalities are observed for the most part throughout all the different areas. You should address your peers with “Senor” (Sir) and “Usted” (the formal singular form of “you”) and only change to a less formal “tu” (informal singular form) if the person you are addressing stops using formalities.

Engineers are usually addressed as “Ingeniero,” University graduates as “Licenciado,” and a businessman with a master’s degree as “Doctor.” The person’s title is usually included on their business card. Business people from outside of Latin America and Spain are not expected to use these titles, but being aware of them may be advantageous. Using titles is particularly helpful if you have any interest in doing business anywhere in Latin America or Spain, or opening your own business and employing local people.

Relationship Building before Getting Down to Business

The style of conducting business in Latin America and Spain is heavily influenced by US management models, but people take a lot more time getting to know their business associates in these countries, before actually getting down to business. It’s very important for foreigners to understand this in order to make a good impression, and to spend the time necessary to meet and get familiar with the right people. Networking and staying up to date with contacts is also valuable.

The time it takes to build relationships with prospective business partners can be aggravating to American and European entrepreneurs, who are anxious to get the ball rolling. They must understand the slower pace and make more time for meetings, because trying to hurry their partners and rush through the process may be viewed unfavorably. Most negotiations will require several visits before an agreement is reached. A crucial factor in successful dealings is meeting people who can connect you with company heads and decision makers, or who can give you guidance about influential people or otherwise point you in the right direction.

The history of business relationships in Latin America and Spain is similar to the way things are done now. You had to have the right friends or come from what was considered a good family, or “buena gente,” to secure deals or meet with those who could. A very small percentage of the population, the rich upper class, basically controlled everything. So historically, first meetings are being conducted today as they’ve always been, small talk about yourself, family, where you’re from, maybe who you know, and what you think about their country.

The Changing Dynamic of Working Women

The double standards impacting women in the workplace of many countries can also be seen in business settings in Latin America and Spain. There are changes in process as there’s a growing number of women being employed in middle management during the past five years and women are earning higher level degrees at a faster pace than their male counterparts. In addition, female entrepreneurs are achieving success in a variety of industries.

The men in Latin America and Spain nevertheless, occupy most of the top positions in the corporate world and machismo is common at all levels in the workplace, particularly in male dominated industries like construction. There still exists the belief that women are better suited to a life of rearing children and taking care of the home and family. The women that do secure gainful employment in the business world, particularly in marketing and sales, are usually chosen for their looks. They still experience discrimination, to include lower salaries, than their male counterparts. Many of the women work as food vendors using street stalls so they’re able to have their children with them.

Women from other countries doing business in Latin America and Spain may encounter old fashioned views, and flirtatious behavior on occasion, but shouldn’t have any problems overall. Foreign men doing business with women in these countries should greet them with a friendly handshake. As you get to know your business associates and develop a closer relationship, a kiss on the cheek will be their typical greeting. The important thing is to remain professional, polite, and cordial with them at all times

Come Bearing Gifts

In Latin America following customs is essential to having successful interactions with anyone you meet. In business relationships in particular, following the right traditions is the easiest way to appear favorable to your client. As far as business meetings go, the general custom is to bring a gift for your client. Typically, the gift is something unique from the country of that person’s origin. A present that would be acceptable to bring on one’s first business meeting would be candy, whiskey, wine, shortbread, or something similar.

Bringing a present on the first meeting is a pleasant introduction to the business at hand. These gifts essentially act like icebreakers and are an excellent way to extend hospitality to the client in general and especially around holidays. Any present that people may bring should be gifted like trinkets or foodstuffs from back home, acting as a way to show the client more of that person’s culture and country.

Depending on where you are in Latin America, the wrong type of present can be misinterpreted as bribery. It is a good idea to shy away from gifts that are too costly or anything that is a designer brand. These types of gifts may be fancy jewelry, gold pens, or something similar, as these may not be seen as simply presents but rather an incentive to bend the rules or convince the client to change their mind on something. To avoid this kind of situation, many of these countries prevent these companies from accepting any types of gifts.