ARTICLE: The Top 3 Fatal Mistakes Most Newcomers Make When Doing Business on Saipan
Even seasoned global business professionals never get it quite right.
by Walt F.J. Goodridge, author of Doing Business on Saipan
How to get things done the right way the 1st time on Saipan
In his ground-breaking classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie essentially says, "People will do just about anything for you, if they like you." Well, here on Saipan, people will do just about anything for you if they know you, trust you, know you're not just here to make a quick buck and leave, and if they like you as well! Building up that sort of reputation takes a little time, and time is precisely what you may not have when starting out.
Business is not done by companies, but by individuals. Relationships are a key component of how business is done. This is true just about everywhere in the world, but even more so on a little 13 by 5 mile island in the middle of the Pacific. That's why, given the same task and objectives on Saipan, some people will succeed with ease while others--try as they might--will always fail.
The #1 mistake most newcomers make when doing business on Saipan is thinking that Saipan is America.
On paper, Saipan may be part of the US, but in reality on the ground, Saipan is in a class by itself with its unique mix of American, Japanese, German and Spanish cultural legacies and influences, world views, practices and expectations all subsumed under indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian governance.
New business owners assume that doing business here--this is America, after all—should be the same as doing business in Hawaii, Guam, or the US mainland. It is not. Consequently, they say the wrong things, fail to say the right things, maintain unreasonable expectations, and commit every conceivable business faux pas in an irreversible process that condemns them to failure.
If you wish to get things done on Saipan, you need someone who knows the lay of the land, who knows how to speak the "language" and who knows where the loyalties exist. You need a person who can (and knows when to) respond quickly to changes in land, language & loyalties. You really do need a guy on the ground.
The Ever-Changing Landscape
Are the planes still flying to Tinian like it says on the website?
Is there enough inventory of this widget on island to meet my needs?
Will the recent changes to the immigration and labor policies affect our turnaround time?
Saipan is in the midst of a tenuous economic recovery, and with that, come opportunities but also certain "growing pains." Things can and often do change at the drop of a hat.
A few weeks ago, we worked with a travel agent in California to arrange a multi-island tour for her clients—a group of five. She knew Saipan. She had everything already arranged. She was knowledgable about the island, and even knew the departure times and flight numbers of the commuter airline flights she wanted her group booked on from one island to another. What she couldn't have anticipated, however, was that 48 hours before her guests arrived, the local airline cancelled all flights to the neighboring island. No announcement. No press release. No radio or tv ad. Being her “man on the ground” allowed us to mobilize quickly, find alternatives, book a charter with another airline and have someone on hand in person to make sure things ran smoothly. Her clients arrived, completed their island-hopping excursion, and had a wonderful time without a clue their adventure had almost derailed!
The #2 mistake most newcomers make when doing business on Saipan is thinking they can manage operations remotely with the same efficiency.
No matter how brilliant and well informed you may think you are, you simply cannot have the same effectiveness managing an operation on Saipan from 8,000 miles away in New York or California. No website or even news outlet will carry pertinent information quickly enough for you to respond. You really do need a guy on the ground.
It’s Not Always About Money
Despite what you've been led to believe about the world we live in, this thing we call economic progress is not the be-all and end-all to life, nor is it the sole requisite for survival or even prosperity in certain parts of the world.
The mad, mad, mad, mad rush to get things done, to do things quickly and efficiently and better than the other guy and to make as much money as possible, simply does not exist on certain little tropical islands in the Pacific.
Culturally, this thing we call time (and punctuality) are viewed in entirely different ways.
People have their land. They have their trees. People have their families and support systems.
People will survive, families will eat and life will go on, whether YOUR plane departs on schedule; whether YOUR cargo gets delivered on time. They don’t need to buy into your concept of timeliness and business practices in order to prosper.
The #3 mistake most newcomers make when doing business on Saipan is thinking everyone has the same capitalistic motivations they do.
These islands have existed for thousands of years before your flight or cargo arrived, and will be here for many more after you leave. You really need a guy on the ground who understands what the real currency is on island and that there are other ways to move people to action besides the promise of money.
What You Pay For
We recently worked with a Department of Defense contractor to arrange a research expedition to a remote island in the Pacific. They’d been planning their trip for months and during our correspondence, we discovered they planned to purchase two dozen units of a critical item a month later once they were here on island. Once we discovered this—knowing the frequent unavailability of items on island as well as the incoming container shipment schedule—we contacted all possible retailers on island to determine the actual availability of the item and advised our client to quickly purchase the full inventory in advance and have them awaiting their arrival. Chances are, had they waited until they got here, they would have found the inventory completely sold out island wide with the next incoming shipment not due to arrive until 90 days later!
Because we know what you expect in your dealings, we’ve created a process of oversight, an attention to detail, plus a network of reliable vendors we can call on to save you time, money and the frustration of unexpected complications.
Yes, you really do need experts on the ground.
1. You need local experts on the ground.
You may think this is the US, but only on paper.
2. You need local experts on the ground who can respond quickly to change.
Things can and often do change without warning.
3. You need local experts on the ground who can respond quickly to change and who think the way you do.
We understand that time is perceived differently; that priorities are assessed from a different cultural perspective and that commitment is interpreted in ways that may frustrate the mainland business owner. More importantly, we know how to reconcile those contrasting worldviews about money, time and business best practices to mesh with your expectations and produce results.
4. You need local experts on the ground who can respond quickly to change, who think the way you do, who are positioned correctly, and who can mobile others with the right skill sets to get things done.
Our company is familiar with the quality of services of local resources, and that means you do not have to take the time to vet vendors remotely.
Discovering Saipan is the best choice to be your expert on the ground.
“If you choose the right ground operator—a company headed by an owner with a proven track record, a deep and reliable network, ethical business best practices, sufficient local good will, who shares your business philosophy, and who monitors the changing landscape and anticipates and advises you on how those changes affect your objectives and who looks out for your best interests—there’s no reason your project should be derailed or even delayed by complications that might arise. When you make such a choice, you’re not only paying for service, you pay for results!”—Walt F.J. Goodridge, founder of Discovering Saipan
Outsource your on-the-ground business needs to Discovering Saipan, THE local subject matter expert. Use us to create an extension of your company operations without paying for office space, employees or overhead. Pay us when you need us. Contact us directly by email or (213) 915-6574 or on Saipan at (670)789-2801 for costs of monthly or per-project retainer options. –Discovering Saipan, your expert on the ground.