For those of you who have been wondering what I have been up to in the past 6 months and for those of you knowing that at some point you will leave China and come back to our good old Europe, here’s the story of my first half year in Germany :
It all started in a camper van in Tasmania with an e-mail from a contact in Germany, asking if I would be interested in becoming their China consultant. What started? The idea of doing my own thing and trying to put the decade of my life that I spent in China to the best use. Supporting companies to maximise their online business potential towards Chinese customers. Kostense Consulting was (re-)born at a beautiful deserted little lake in the middle of nowhere.
Two months later, in what is called the Burgerbüro (local city office) in the east of Stuttgart, Germany, I was astounded at how simple the process of registering my entrepreneurship was. Thank you Germany, for just requiring 1 form, 1 copy of my passport, 1 signature and 15 minutes time. For allowing me to apply for my corporate bank account and VAT number ONLINE and providing me with the activated accounts within 2-3 weeks.
Thank you China, for preparing me to expect at least 5 times the amount of required forms, stamps, signatures and time to get this in place. I did kind of miss the of that one final square, round or rectangular (take your pick) red stamp that would set one free after countless hours spent and forms shoved back and forth underneath that thick armoured glass between you and the Chinese official.
And then the real work starts: how to define what it is that I offer, into words and terms that people understand? How to describe the experiences I have built up in that country that so many have heard of but so few understand? How to show people the huge potential that I have seen and lived in China every day? My website came to life, one- & two-pagers in both English and German, powerpoint presentations, business cards etc. I fully understand that these are basic requirements in order to build up my online credibility and “findability”. I also know that the information provided in them can only ever be a mere introduction and an attempt to put the reality of online China in understandable European terms.
Onto the next stage: building up a network and starting up acquisition. WOW, that’s when reality kicked in once again. I have never worked in Europe before, I have spent my entire ‘working life’ in China! From the very start of my career, I had only ever come into contact with new people through my existing contacts. Yes of course I would attend the business diners, trade delegations and countless networking events in Beijing. And of course I would meet very interesting people there. But the real talks, the real projects and the real business would always come through the people you know and trust. And you’d use each others personal mobile phone numbers to communicate and now of course you practically do your entire business through WeChat.
But here in Germany, it is back to using general office phone numbers, online information-exchange-forms and literally sending your resume and your other “Unterlagen” (the paperwork that proves you’re worth talking to) before you can even share a first cup of tea! Thank you my dear China, for letting me appreciate the values of relationships, trust and reciprocity so much more than I already did. Thank you Germany, for pushing me to formalise the added value that I can bring and showing you my worth through the objectiveness of paper.
The best of both worlds
And I am truly grateful that I am learning both ways of networking and acquisition as they are proving to be a great combination to win clients & projects and build partnerships. My first client came through a colleague of a dear friend, the second came through my cold e-mail 1-pager in German while the third came through a cold call to a local Chinese business owner. The partnerships I am building up came through a first introduction at a networking event, a friend who’s girlfriend plays in the same sports team and a cold call to the office of someone’s name I read in an online article. Some of the projects I am working on came through old friends in Beijing, old friends in The Netherlands or new friends found right here in Stuttgart.
Combining 10 years of working and living in China with 34 years of being European to build up my own company here in Germany, turns out to be just the right thing for me to do. Not only am I thankful to both China and Germany for the experiences they bring me, I am particularly thankful to those people around me that have enabled me to start up Kostense Consulting and combine the best of both worlds.