India can be a rich but complex and challenging environment in which to do business.
Here are 10 lessons for small and medium-sized businesses to help score success:
Partnerships are critical
If you are not big enough, not familiar enough with the country or don't want to waste money, teaming up with partners can help to create strengths where you have weaknesses, speed up your learning process and keep costs down. Partners are most important for those who want to keep marketing and distribution costs low, or for those lost in a maze of regulations and policy complexities.
Focus on quality
India's economy is booming because of its own entrepreneurial culture. If you want to compete with local firms, it may be best to set your sights at the top end, where customers and clients are most discerning. Getting into a wrestling match on cut-rate offerings may not be what the doctor ordered.
Hang in there. Many companies have gained from regulatory changes and business improvements that took place after they entered the Indian market. In the meantime, they learned a lot about the market.
Be bureaucracy-friendly – or bureaucracy-proof
India's government is friendlier than many suspect – but red tape is a different thing. Five decades of a socialist legacy of controls have brought tough compliance rules on approvals and regulations. If you have a spunky local competitor who knows the system better, take extra care. Seek the advice of senior government officials and chambers of commerce.
Custom-making your product or service can make a great difference. Go the extra mile.
Mind the contract details
In partnerships and in marketing, it is best to pre-empt any potential future litigation by drawing up contracts so that rights and obligations are clear to all concerned.
Payments may get delayed or denied if you sell to or become partners with an untrustworthy party. Get reference checks on those you plan to work with.
Combining products and services can help customers relate better. Maintenance, upgrades and after-sales service can be blended to get better results.
Send home feedback
Whether it's about market conditions or customer needs, if you are bringing products into India or tailoring your offerings for the local market, give product and market feedback to those who are designing them. Innovations needed for India may be different than elsewhere.
Differentiate your skills
Do a benchmarking test on the kinds of skills your company offers in a globally competitive market.
Special to the Globe and Mail
Narayanan Madhavan is associate editor of the business news pages of Hindustan Times, a leading Indian daily newspaper. He has previously worked for Reuters, the international news agency, as well as The Economic Times and Business Standard, India's leading business dailies. Though focused mainly on business and economic journalism with a strong focus on information technology and the Internet, he has also covered or written about issues including politics, diplomacy, cinema, culture, cricket and social issues. He has an honours degree in economics and a master's degree in political science from the University of Delhi.