Musings from Bahraini entrepreneur, design agency creative director and magazine editor, Wafa Alobaidat
I can officially celebrate my two year anniversary of living and doing business in Bahrain. And what best way to round up the two years in my hometown than to reflect on all the tips I've learned in working with Arabs compared to my two years working in the heart of London in Notting Hill.
- Bahrainis (and Khaleejis in general) are very visual people. They need to see where you work, who you work with, and all your credentials. Appearance is key and the more you dress the part the more likely you are to land the job. Sending a proposal via email is a death wish, always opt for the one-to-one session which can make or break the deal. In London a lot of my work was processed via email with little to sometimes any client interaction. That had to change when I came back to Bahrain.
- It's not straight up about business. In Bahrain people prefer to chat first. Who are you? Who are your parents? Where have you worked? Which area are you from? Where did you study? The first time you meet a potential client, the longer the conversation, the more likely you are to land the job. People care about people, and when you start caring about the person you are talking to then they might like you long enough to trust you with a project. Again in the UK, there was none of this small talk business. You sit down, deliver a pitch and bam – you knew right then and there what the next step was. These sessions were short and straight forward with very little room for a cup of coffee. No one wanted to hear your story, they just wanted to know you would get the job done, and do it well.
- Do things for free. Expect to do a whole lot of stuff for free before gaining ones trust. In the UK, no one moved an inch on a project before viewing that 50% deposit in their accounts. In Bahrain, clients find that insulting. "What? 50 percent, why?! Don't you trust me?" It's strange how personal business can get. Arabs in my opinion don't like rules and regulations to be applicable to them and thrive on receiving special treatment.
- Haggling is the way to go. I sometimes feel like my clients mistake my offices for a Turkish bazaar or Khan Al Khalili in Cairo.
- Have it done yesterday. An Arab client will leave everything to the last minute but won’t settle for anything less than what was intended. We are so used to having everything done for us quickly by someone else that we compromise on quality.
Learning to adapt from doing business in the UK to doing business in Bahrain was no easy ride. Most of what I’ve learnt, I have learnt through trial and error.
Over the years, I'm sure I will gather a variety of skills of doing business in various countries. Learning to pull skills from one experience to another will be a super challenge, but again this pushes the mind and forces one to adapt with the changing (not to mention hot and humid) winds.
Wafa Alobaidat writes a bi-monthly column for Khaleejesque and muses on fashion, art, culture and culture shock in the Middle East. Wafa is also the editor of Sketchbook magazine and runs design and PR agency Obai and Hill.