By Claire West, Fresh Business Thinking

As part of a recent trade delegation to China, one of Smart Currency Business' senior staffers was taken aback by the sheer volume of cultural and economic barriers for British SMEs looking beyond the stagnating UK economy to take a slice of the growth potential in China.

Just prior to Christmas, Jana Korpova, Head of Business Development at sister company Smart Currency Exchange, was one of 20 delegates from half a dozen Western nations to visit China on a tour organised by OPP (Overseas Property Professional) for real estate focused businesses.

It is well known that the Chinese Government enforces many restrictive rules on business operations, capital flows into and out of the country as well as business lending, visas and property usage. However , trying to determine the exact scope of these regulations can prove to be something of a minefield.

“The sheer volume of rumours about Chinese regulations acts as a real obstacle to success. Depending on who you speak with or where you look, you can find 100 different responses to a question you have, and none of them may be completely accurate,” Ms Korpova said.

“This is a two-way street – there are just as many rumours among Western business people on the technicalities involved in getting into the Chinese market as there are among locals wanting to trade and invest outside of the country. It is important to rely on official information from relevant governments and agencies to ensure the information is accurate and up-to-date.”

As well as the language barrier, which is more prevalent in China than it is in Europe where most people speak at least some English, Ms Korpova said that cultural differences between Britons and Chinese have the potential to damage even the brightest of business prospects if not properly addressed.

“Chinese people will only do business with people with whom they have a personal connection – referred to locally as “Guanxi”. They rely on personal connections in order to progress in business,” she said.

“Also, the Chinese do not like saying 'no' to anything. For Westerners, this can be a difficult concept to grasp, since nothing is ever definitively ruled out even if the Chinese are adamantly against something. They will either say 'yes' or 'probably', or not respond at all, instead of giving you a straightforward 'no'.”

Despite these, and many other, potential hurdles to success, Ms Korpova believes there is huge potential in China for UK businesses to tap into if they are willing to familiarise themselves with Chinese culture as well as the marketplace.

“I found the Chinese to be very positive and curious. They are eager to learn more and are very gradually being granted more freedoms. There is a real sense of hope that China's new government will begin to offer increased flexibility and open up more opportunities for international business and investment,” she said.