Category: start and run a business

Exploring Korean business, language and life from Ansan, Korea

Seeking Korean Partner/Consultant to Promote ESL Website, Part II (How To Connect to Korean Consumers Offline)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a former client asking how to market his ESL website to Korean consumers. He's tried various online approaches which haven't worked and my previous article discussed that in detail, including some concise tips at Korea Business Central)

In addition to the online aspects of his efforts, he also asked about how to connect to his market offline:

…To help my chances, I'd like to begin searching for someone in Korea who can help. This person might act as a recruiter, or even work together to launch a new online ESL business. I'm keeping a very open mind on this. So, if you think you might know anyone who'd be interested or can advise me on where to begin looking, please let me know.

Here's my answer:

As I pointed out in my previous post, the market for ESL education in Korea is big, but crowded. I don't think an online-only approach is likely to work in Korea for various reasons. I agree with your conclusion that you need someone on the ground to support you offline. I suspect that "someone" may need to be you, as I'll explain below.

The first reason you can't just market online is simply that there are so many ESL websites out there that, to get seen in your market, you've got to stand out from the crowd with a strategy that does more than just throw time and money at Google, Naver and Daum. 

But beyond that, while there may be a few lone rangers in Korea who are bypassing the offline options and are going to the Internet to resolve their English learning needs, the vast majority of Korean language learners start their search with resources closer to home.

Furthermore, the average student doesn't just call up institutes and English teachers in the local phone book; he/she goes where his/her friends are studying (for kids) or where his/her co-workers are studying (for adults). Though I'm not prepared to say with confidence that this is unique to Korea (or East Asia) because of the group-oriented culture (though this might be an aggravating factor), the normal way for someone to get into the English study track is through personal referrals (often the mothers of other students) or company directives, and usually to a local institute or teacher.

Not just that, while Koreans are certainly interested in learning English due to an internal desire to speak better, the short-term motivation is usually more down-to-earth: to get better grades at school or fulfill a career requirement. And so Korean ESL students will generally put priority on courses that take them over the shortest distance to these external goals, and once they've done that, very few have the time or energy left to also study online with a course that isn't directly linked to these immediate needs. 

Not only are you competing against other English programs geared toward pragmatic ends that enjoy an offline referral network, but you also have to contend with everything else in the average Korean student's schedule. Remember, Korean kids aren't just learning English, they also take after-school classes to learn a ridiculously long list of other subjects and by the time they reach middle school, the diligent students are often getting home from "cram school" at 10pm, 11pm or later… 

One more thing you're working against is the social benefits that kids get from going to the institute. Since they're studying so many hours during the day, the institute is an important place for spending time with friends. But an online option is presumably a one-on-one thing, or at best, a group discussion environment of people from a variety of places who don't know each other. A sizable portion of your market won't be interested in a study approach that removes the social aspects which are rooted in their existing social network. At least, I know that this has been an important factor in my kids' after-school study choices.

It seems to me, then, that you will have to get your business connected to a local network and be able to credibly present your service as an alternative (or better, complement) to local resources that help learners get better grades on their tests at school or meet career requirements at their place of employment. Considering how price inflexible Korean mothers can be when trying to get the best education for their kids, you won't be able to do this with a marketing appeal that focuses mainly on lower cost; you've got to offer quality differentiation on a variety of dimensions that your market will find important.

This will take both strategic marketing AND program development.

It will also take "boots on the ground", though I don't think it will require you to learn Korean or become an expert in the Korean culture, nor do I think you're going to find a stranger willing to recruit for you on a commission-basis. Everybody wants that; just today I received yet another request to help (wait for it…) an online ESL website get students in Korea.

One approach could be to connect to an offline service provider and complement their service without them feeling threatened by your role or being tempted to replace you. What I mean is that by offering lessons by a native-English speaker, you could plug into the teaching efforts of independent Korean teachers or small Korean institutes that are struggling just like you and would benefit from having a native English speaker on staff to supplement the grammar lessons they are giving their students. If kids at an institute are being taught English for three hours a week, you could offer to add on a 30-minute or 60-minute Skype call direct to the classroom with the kids gathered around the computer, to help them practice what they've learned. I suggest small institutes or independent teachers since large institutes and corporations are already making their own arrangements for this and won't be open to your value proposition.

At the same time, you have to figure out how to build relationships or share equity or something else that overcomes conflicts of interest, where your Korean counterparts worry you'll rip off their students after getting access or where you won't worry they'll just change Skype teachers at some point in time. Thus, you're not going to recruit these partners by email.

I suspect you're going to have to come to Korea and immerse yourself in the ESL industry (such as by teaching English) for awhile to make contacts and build relationships and experiment with approaches that work and that Koreans respond to. This knowledge of the market (and a little of the culture, which you can get up to speed on quickly and affordably with the KBC Professional Certification Program) and a lot of sweat equity on the ground is probably the only way to bootstrap your way to a successful online business.

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Web-Based ESL Business Offline to Korean Language Learners?"

Seeking Korean Partner/Consultant to Promote ESL Website, Part I (How To Market Online to Korean Consumers)

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"

The Internet has opened up possibilities for new business models, and many new online businesses are sprouting up in the field of teaching English as a second language. It's not hard to understand why. Rather than fly native English speakers around the world to live in unfamiliar surroundings to teach English to locals, instructors can now connect to students over Skype and educate without travelling. It's a great way to reduce costs and avoid other cultural and logistical difficulties while delivering value to language learners the world over.

With falling barriers to entry, the field has gotten crowded though, with thousands of websites cropping up to offer these virtual/remote English lessons. Over the years, my team and I have had the privilege of translating a few of these sites to Korean so that our clients can connect to the market in Korea for ESL instruction. Unfortunately, a nice website that communicates well is only the first step, as the following message from a previous client makes clear. 

Hi Steven, My name is ________. Last year I had you do the translation for my ESL website. I was impressed with your service, and knowledge of Korea, so I wanted to reach out to you on something. So far, I've had a real tough time attracting business in Korea. Early on I had foolishly spent money on Google Adwords, and Twitter advertising, which didn't generate results. Not to mention large amounts of time with social networks, and the like. When I found out about the popularity of Naver & Daum, I hired a professional SEO service to optimize my site, along with "guest blog posts". After that, I saw a small uptick in traffic, but still not converting into new clients. It's been frustrating, and depressing at times. I'm willing to the spend the time and money, but I feel like not knowing the Korean language and culture is putting me at a disadvantage….

 I answered my client as follows.

It's nice to hear from you. I remember working on the Korean localization of your website and I'm glad to hear that our service met your expectations. I recall that your attitude to the localization process put quality above cost and I believe you when you say you're willing to spend the time and money to make the endeavor work. In fact, as someone who has spent a ridiculous amount of money and effort on online marketing efforts of various kinds, I have a great deal of sympathy for your situation.

You asked near the beginning of our business relationship about the value of having Korean text alongside English YouTube videos and about whether it would be effective in attracting Korean students. I just dug back into my archives and found my following reply: 

"It's a tough call, especially as you're jumping into a very competitive market. If you've got the marketing strategy in place to support the YouTube funnel, then of course, the Korean text can be an asset. If you're not sure what kind of traffic you can pull to these videos, you might put that cost off until later. I've seen more than one businessperson (myself included!) spend a lot of money to get all set up only to find that the marketing is lacking." 

In advising you, I'd like to first discuss some insights about online marketing in Korea. At this point, I should point out that I don't think this will ultimately be cost-effective for you in your business, but the following does describe a starting point for understanding how a successful campaign might be put together.

You mention that Google Adwords was a waste of money. It all depends on what niche you're in, but for ESL, I'm sure the bid prices on keywords are through the roof and too many non-converting visitors will drain your bank account quickly. The only way to make it work is to have a deep sales pipeline with an integrated range of goods and services that you're marketing effectively to those who click on your Adwords ads. Top advertisers on major keywords are prepared to lose money on the initial leads in order to harvest value over a longer period of time.

I'd be interested to know how you operated and targeted your Google advertising. Did you do it yourself? Regardless of what Google says, Adwords is not for the faint of heart, and not just because the tools are complicated (and getting more so everyday) and the underlying algorithms secret. I would even say that Google's representations of their system to novice advertisers are even misleading and incomplete. But as you may have found out, working with a competent (or even incompetent!) SEM professional is expensive, and even if your consultant does know what he/she is doing, you often won't get the level of focused and sustained attention you need to make it work. 

In fact, in your market, there are bound to be a lot of competitors, some with deep pockets (thanks to cash flow from offline, successful English institutes in Korea but without a sustainable strategy), just throwing money into the marketing effort. This makes Google rich, but leaves everyone else paying more than they should.

Furthermore, running a Google Adwords campaign in English isn't going to get you very close to your market since your potential students probably aren't doing most of their searching in English. That means your ads need to be localized, too. But since Google Adwords isn't a set-it-and-forget-it approach, you can't just get your ads translated once somewhere and then throw them up online. The ads must be constantly monitored and optimized, not just from a standard marketing perspective but also in terms of language and culture, which makes it a high-touch/high-specialization/high-cost adventure. (BTW, I've written about a surprising aspect of character limitations that applies to Korean ads on Google Adwords.)

Besides, even if you do get your online marketing program going effectively on Google in Korean for Korean consumers located in Korea, you'll then be reaching… just 10-15% of the search market. As you noted already, the movers and shakers in the Korean market are still Naver (with about 60-70% of the market) and Daum (with around 20-30%).

You said that you tried SEO for the Korean search engines, but these native Korean portals also run their own proprietary advertiser tools modeled on Google Adwords. The interfaces are in Korean and the complicated Korean government-mandated requirements make it next-to-impossible to register to advertise as a non-Korean. I tried it about a year ago on Naver just to see if I could, and I barely managed to sign up, but I still had to register as an overseas marketer since my websites are owned by my US corporation, which meant that the process had to be jury-rigged to get me through the ad approvals every time. I ultimately never did anything with it; just too much trouble. This means you would ultimately have to work with a Korean agency to get directly to Daum and Naver, and to do that, you're looking at talent of dubious competence and high cost and you won't be able to transparently monitor the process.

At any rate, if you do choose to move forward with online marketing to Korean search engine users, I would recommend the following approach which, done right, would minimize your costs and maximize your effectiveness.

Stage 1 - The online advertising interfaces of the Korean portals are primitive compared to the Google system and I don't recommend you start with them. Instead, work with an SEM provider who is qualified to advertise on Google in English and supplement this with a Korean language consultant who can localize and adjust ads as instructed by the SEM professional. Keep this up until you've got a strong campaign going that generates profitable leads and until you've exhausted the potential that Google is giving you in its 20% of the Korean search market. Be sure you have Google Analytics installed on your site and know how to use it; you'll need that both to optimize for Google, as well as for Stage 2 below.

Stage 2 – Once you've wrung out all the value from Stage 1, you're ready to attack the Korean portals. Do this by working through an SEM professional in Korea. You won't need the best expert here (good thing, because they're hard to find!); just someone who knows the nuts and bolts and has an account that is authorized to to resell advertising for foreign advertisers on the Korean portals. Make it clear that you'll be providing the optimized ads and keywords from your Google campaign and so only minor optimization within the Naver and Daum ecosystems will be required. Then feed the ads, keywords and other demographic information directly or through your Korean language consultant to the Naver/Daum seller and tell them to set it up.

Normally, advertising on the Korean portals would be a black box, since you won't have easy access to what's going on there. But because you'll have the results of your Google campaigns to benchmark against, you can simply watch carefully through Google Analytics to make sure your Korean campaigns are generating results on par with Google. As you continue to optimize your Google campaigns, you can have your Naver and Daum campaigns updated as well.

Regarding marketing on SNS, don't bother unless you're prepared to engage in time-consuming conversation with your market. On the other hand, there are umpteen online "cafes" which you could join on Daum or Naver. These are online meeting places that bring together groups of people interested in the same topic. Some would be focused on learning English and if you were to make your presence known in these spots, such as by sharing value in the discussions, you might be able to get closer to your market. However, I haven't tried it and I don't know how practical it is because of the Korean-language interfaces. Done strategically, it could at least would get you into an under-served area away from the crowds at Facebook and Twitter. Even so, these are still vibrant online discussion forums in Korea today.

As for general search engine optimization, well, there's so much content out there now in the ESL field that I don't know how you'd ever get heard amidst everything else. Ultimately, I think you'll need to reach out to your market; not hope they find you through organic SEO. 

** Visit the related discussion on Korea Business Central: "How Can I Market My Business Online to Korean Consumers?"

Information for Entrepreneurs and Investors about Changes to the Korean D-8 Visa Rules

The D-8 visa has been a good visa for non-Korean investors and entrepreneurs wishing to live and work in Korea over the long-term. 

Basically, since opening a corporation in Korea had previously required W50 million in paid-in capital, non-Koreans setting up such a corporation in Korea who made the investment to set up a corporation had also been able to apply for and receive a visa to live and work in Korea over the long-term. There was a little paperwork involved, but by following the rules, the initial investment burden wasn't excessive. Furthermore, after jumping through the hoops to set things up, as long as the business remained in legal compliance, the visa continued to be renewed, even if the initial investment ended up getting spent on things like living expenses and/or the business did not actually make much money.

Unfortunately, this approach attracted "investments" from non-Koreans (primarily from other Asian countries, I'm told) who would bring in money to set up the corporation in order to get the visa to live in Korea, but without intention of actually running a profitable company. Furthermore, the W50 million bar was so low that not a lot of economic activity was generated by vibrant businesses set up with such small amounts of capital. Not just that, in 2010, the minimum capital amount in Korea for setting up a corporation (both Koreans and non-Koreans) was reduced to just W1 million, making it necessary to separate the visa and capital requirements.

The government increased the FDI required for D-8 visa eligibility to W100 million a few years ago in order to sift out investors that the government perceived were not providing adequate economic value to the nation. Along with that, by meeting the W100 million FDI threshold for the D-8 visa, a businessperson was not required to invest in a corporation; sole-proprietorships and partnerships were permitted, too.

However, things are still changing. At the end of 2012, new rules went into effect requiring all D-8 visa holders to convert their sole-proprietorships into corporations, and any new D-8 visa applications would require the corporate form of business. Perhaps an added benefit of this approach (from the government's view) was that it would be easier to monitor the viability of a business run along corporate lines, than a sole proprietorship or partnership where business and personal fund mixing makes it difficult to analyze objectively. 

Now the government is raising the minimum initial investment amount to W300 million in order to qualify for the D-8 visa, a considerably higher amount than before. As far as I know, this hasn't been announced formally, but based on my discussions with the foreigner ombudsman's office at KOTRA, it's not a rumor. I understand that the new FDI requirements will go into effect in mid-2013. Furthermore, just bringing in the W300 million won't be enough; to maintain visa eligibility, the business will be expected to achieve certain minimum business results, such as in terms of sales.

For sure, the Korean economy is one where small companies struggle and large conglomerates run the show. Some are considering that these new rules reflect a lack of interest by the government in supporting foreign small businesses. However, it seems likely to me that the government is more concerned about closing loopholes that some foreigners have been using to live in Korea under visas that don't reflect the purpose of those visas. The government's decisions are probably helped by a belief that many of these small foreign businesses are not much of a contributor to the Korean economy.

Email Interview with Reporter from the Donga Ilbo Newspaper

I much prefer email interviews to verbal ones; that's because I can keep and post my exact answers here even if the reporter ends up using only bits and pieces of what I provide. This is from an interview with the Donga Ilbo. 

<스티븐씨의 소개>

Q. 동아일보 독자들에게 스티븐씨에 대한 간단한 소개 부탁드립니다.

Q. KBC외에 다른 직업이나 직책이 있다면 알려주세요.

제가 한국에 처음 온지 20년 되어 가는데, 그중 10년 이상 한국에서 살았습니다. 지금은 안산에서 가족이랑 거주하면서 미국 법인인 Korean Consulting & Translation Service, Inc.를 운영하고 있습니다. 개인사업자로 미국법인을 서포트를 해 주는 한국회사도 차렸습니다. 그 이외에는 Korea Business Central을 운영하고 안산에 있는 한양대학교 ERICA캠퍼스에서 경상대학원에서 박사과정을 공부하고 있습니다.

더 자세한 내용은 - 

<KBC에 관하여>

Q. 독자들에게 KBC에 대해 간단히 소개해주세요.

KBC를 시작한 목적은 외국인들이 한국에서, 그리고 한국사람들하고 비즈니스을 잘 하고, 한국회사에서 취직하여 잘 살아남을 수 있기 위한 것입니다.

이 목적을 달성하기 위해서 여러 방법을 동원하고 있는데, 주로 한국 비즈니스에 대한 지식, 토론 및 뉴스 마당을 만들면서, 멤버들의 서로간 네트워킹 기회를 제공하고 있습니다. 그리고 개인의 한국 비즈니스에 대한 지식 및 취직하는 과정에서 자신에 대한 신임을 받을 수 있기 위한 KBC Professional Certification Program (도 작년부터 개발/도입하여 운영하고 있습니다.

Q. 왜 한국과 관련된 사업을 시작 하게 되었습니까?

Q. KBC를 시작하기 전에 한국에 관심이 있거나, 관련이 있었습니까?

제가 한국에서 오래 살고 한국에서 가족도 있고 한국을 사랑하기 때문에, 한국과 인연이 있어서 KBC를 시작한 것은 그리 어려운 결정이 아니였죠.

Q. KBC를 이용하는 외국인과 한국인은 몇 명쯤 됩니까?

한국인 멤버들이 있기는 있는데, KBC의 콘테츠가 주로 영어로 되어 있고, 외국인 대상으로 만들어져 있기 때문에  한국인 멤버들이 KBC에서 그렇게 활발하지 못 한 것 같습니다. 그래도, 한국인의 멤버가입은 언제든지 대환영합니다.

Q. KBC의 큰 도움을 받은 외국인이 있나요? (에피소드가 있다면 알려주세요)

그럼요, 멤버들이 공유한 다음 추천의 글은 있습니다:

그리고, 한 에피소드를 멤버의 말로 알려 드립니다.

I would like to share with you my experiance concerning my recent job search in the Netherlands..

I am a Polish girl that obtained a Master degree in Korean languge in Poland and also studied for one year at the Yonsei Univeristy in Seoul. I`ve worked for more than 6 years in 2 Korean companies in Poland and had various experiance in translating, interepreting, managing many variuos tasks.

To be honest with all this experiance and also my Korean language skills I was sure it would be quite easy to get a job at such an international and opened job market as it is in Amsterdam.  But after some time I realised it was not easy at all. I sent my CV to most of the Korean companies in the Netherlands. I tried to apply for certain positions or ask for internships – maybe half of the companies replied and it was always a negative answer. It seemed that my Korean language skills were not very important. At some point I was almost ready to give up.

However, just then it happened that I contacted KBC Ambassador in the Netherlands Ms. Eun-Shil Boots and mentioned to her about my job-search situation.  She assured me that it is possible to find a job in a Korean company, but just I needed to know how to do it. I agreed with her that Koreans rely on the opinion of others and tend to hire people that are recommended. She mentioned to me that there is a logistic company that is very international and has its branches all over the world and might need someone like me. I changed then my CV, made it more easy to read and understandable for Koreans and she send it to the headquarters of the company in Korea.

To be honest I did not believe it would work, but surprisingly very soon I was invited for an interview and got the job! I was so happy, because it seemed that my Korean language skills got appreciated!

I live 15 minutes away from the company, but  my CV had to travel long way – to Korea and back so that I could get the job!

I would say that it is definitely possible to find a job in a Korean company. Don`t be shy, tell as many Koreans you know that you search for a job and sooner or later you will find a job you like!:)

 Greetings to all memebers!

 Ewa 에바

<아래의 질문들은 '서울에서 외국인이 창업을 하는 것'에 대한 질문입니다. 

가능한 구체적으로 사례들 말씀해주시면 매우 감사하겠습니다.>

Q.서울에 창업을 원하는 외국인을 아십니까? 알고계신 사람들에 대해 간략히 설명해주세요. (ex.업종, 국적, 인원 수, 규모 등) 

한국에서 창업하고 싶은 외국인들이 많습니다. 제가 몇 명을 소개해 드렸는데, 저에게 길고 정리한 리스트가 없습니다. Seoul Global Business Support Center에 문의하시면 이 질문과 관련한 유용한 정보를 아마 많이 입수하실 수 있을 것 같습니다.

Q.서울에 창업을 한 외국인을 아십니까? 알고계신 사람들에 대해 간략히 설명해주세요. (ex.업종, 국적, 인원 수, 규모 등) 

제가 이미 소개해 드린 3명을 이외에 1-2명을 더 인터뷰를 하고 싶으시면, 말씀하세요. 제가 찾아서 소개해 드릴게요.

Q.서울에서 창업에 실패한 외국인을 몇 명 아십니까? 실패한 원인이 무엇입니까? 그들은 다시 시도했습니까?

아마 있겠죠. 그런데, 대부분의 창업하고자 하는 외국인들이 이미 한국에 와 있고 크게 시작하지 않기 때문에, 실패했다 하기보다는 큰 손해없이 그냥 포기하고 자기의 나라로 돌아가든지, 어디서 취직을 하든지 했을 것 같습니다. 구체적으로는 지금 생각이 나는 사례가 없습니다.  

Q.서울에서 외국인이 창업을 할 때, 어려움이 있습니까? (ex.제도적, 문화적, 경제적, 언어적 문제 등) 

제가 보기에는 가장 큰 어려움은 자본금/비자 문제입니다. 많은 외국인들이 자기의 나라에서 할수 있는 것처럼 큰 자본금없이 집에서 혼자서 무엇을 시작하고자 하는데, 한국에서는 자본금이나 풀타임 일자리가 없으면 비자도 못 받기 때문에 천천히 시작하는 방식은 어럽습니다. 대부분의 한국에 오는 외국인들이 아파트 전세금조차도 없는데, 한국 법인을 설립할 1억원에 달하는 자본금까지 모아서 창업하는 것이 그림의 떡이다. 그리고 한국은행은 외국인들에게 신용카드를 주지는 않은데 사업 자본금을 대출하겠습니까?

Q.한류가 외국인의 창업에 영향을 미쳤습니까?

한류덕분에 한국에 와서 창업하거나 취직하고 싶은 외국인이 증가하기는 했을 것입니다. 그런데, 실제로 창업/취직할 능력이 있어서 한국에 와서 취직/청업한 사람은 그정도 늘어나지 않았을 것 같습니다.  

Q.외국의 도시(싱가포르, NY, 도쿄, 베이징 등)와 비교했을 때,

서울의 매력이나 특징이 있습니까? 특히 창업과 관련한 특징입니다. 

저는 그 다른 도시들에서 살아본 적이 없어서 직접적으로 통찰을 공유할 수 없지만, 제가 다른 사람들의 말을 듣고 생각해보니까 서울은 싱가포르나 NY이 외국인들에게 주는 매력을 비교하는 것이 좀 무리한 것 같습니다.  북경이나 도쿄하고 비교 대상이 될수 있습니다. 그래도, 저같이 한국을 사람하는 사람이 아니면, 서울의 특별한 매력이나 특징을 깊숙히 고려하는 외국인들이 많을 것 같지 않습니다.

Q.외국인이 서울에 창업하기 좋은 업종은 무엇입니까? 그 이유는 무엇입니까?

아무래도, 영어와 관련된 업종은 영어권 나라에서 온 사람들에게 가장 유리하겠죠…

Q.외국인이 서울에 창업하기 좋지 않은 업종은 무엇입니까? 그 이유는 무엇입니까?

그거는 모르겠습니다. 아마 한국내 인맥이 필요한 업종은 외국인들에게 불리하겠습니다. 한국에서 비즈니스가 크게 인맥에 의존해서 음직이니까, 보통의 외국사람들이 자신의 회사를 크게 할래면, 다른 나라에 가서 할 수 밖에 없을 것 같습니다.

Q.서울이 '아시아의 실리콘벨리'가 되기위해 어떤 노력이 필요합니까?

어려운 질문입니다. 한국은 “아시아의 실리콘벨리”가 못 될 것 같습니다. 이미 싱가포르나 홍콩은 있는데, 서울이 그렇게 될래면, 엄청많이 변해야 할것입니다. 차라리 한국의 독창적인 매력이나 장점을 제데로 살려서 새로운 입지를 만들어 나가야 할 것 같은데, 그 답은 쉽게 풀리지는 않을 것 입니다. 그런데, 실리콘밸리가 이미 있는데, 서울은 왜 또 다른 시리콘밸리되고 싶어요? 질문의 발상부터는 잘못 됬다고 생각합니다. 

Q.그 외 외국인의 서울 창업에 관해 조언하실 것이 있습니까?

한국은 외국인들에게만 창업하기 어렵지 않습니다. 한국의 SME들도 죽어가는데요… 일부러 외국인들 위해서 창업하기 좋게 하는 것보다 모든 사람들에게 평등한 시장조건을 조성해서 한국인이든 외국인이든 누구나 창업하고 비즈니스를 잘 할 수 있는 환경을 만들었으면 합니다. 서울은 꼭 외국인이 많이 살고 창업해야 살기 좋은 도시가 되는 것이 아니라는 것은 저의 생각입니다.

Build a Business in Korea: “What resources are available on Korea Business Central to help me build a business in Korea and do business with Korean companies?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company. 


"What resources are available on Korea Business Central to help me build a business in Korea and do business with Korean companies?"

"I’ve already mentioned the expert interviews we’ve done on Korea Business Central that discuss these key aspects; each of them is a goldmine of valuable and practical information for doing business in Korea. We have a group of experts on KBC ready to answer questions in the community, sometimes at no charge. In addition, many community discussions reference challenges and opportunities of doing business in Korea, and following and participating in these is a great way to raise one’s understanding.

In fact, there’s so much information in the community about doing business in Korea, that we’ve even made things easy by organizing it for you. There’s a page that focuses on Starting and Running a Business in Korea. Another focuses on Korean Business Savvy, and another on Korean Business Networking. Each of these pages brings together the best resources in the community, along with a lot of links to elsewhere on the web, so they should be a frequent point of reference for you in your business endeavors in Korea.

Finally, we offer high-quality professional services, including translation, business interpreting, online marketing and other one-on-one consulting services, as well as formal Korean business culture training in the form of our KBC Professional Certification Program."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview. 

Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Build a Business in Korea: “Knowing Korea has a reputation for being difficult, what do I need to be “warned about” when it comes to working with vendors, suppliers, and service providers in Korea?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company. 


"Knowing Korea has a reputation for being difficult, what do I need to be "warned about" when it comes to working with vendors, suppliers, and service providers in Korea?"

"We’ve covered this at length on KBC too, in particular in our interviews with Peter Bartholomew, Peter Underwood and Tom Coyner (all of which are available for free in the KBC community.)

Perhaps the #1 challenge foreigners face is in the different concept of contracts in Korean business culture. While Korean multinationals operate at global standards, once you get down to the small to medium-sized company levels, you’ll find that agreements often require ongoing attention and interpretation. This is also why business networking is so important and why knowing how to build and maintain business relationships in Korea the right way is a key success factor.

I would also point out that Korean customers frequently have exceptionally high expectations for the speed and quality of service and you should be prepared to provide these in order to compete effectively.

Finally, in the consumer market particularly, there’s a fine line between an interest in foreign products, and a preference for local goods. Therefore, aligning your marketing message to the local market is a crucial step."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Q&A with Korea Herald About KBC and Starting or Running a Business in Korea as a Foreigner

The following is the bulk of the email interview on which much of today's article published in the Korea Herald is based.

1. Based on your years of experience doing business here, how would you assess the level of support that the government (local or federal, your choice) provides for entrepreneurs, particularly for foreigners who set up their own businesses (ie non-MNCs) in Korea? Did you witness a noticeably more aggressive push by the government for aiding entrepreneurs, and when?

I'm not in a great position to comment too much on this because I just set up my Korean business through a local accounting firm here in Ansan. But my main market isn't Koreans and/or people living in Korea, so it would be tough to call myself a local entrepreneur. The Korean company for me is mainly a vehicle for processing funds that come from my US-based translation and consulting services. I'd probably have found the various government services more helpful though if I was actually setting up something new in Korea and for that, as far as I know, before the Seoul Global Business Support Center was established in 2010, there weren't any specific government efforts being made to help foreign entrepreneurs do business in Korea. So, before we started getting the discussion going and collecting resources on KBC in late 2009, I'm not sure there was anything organized and available at all. Today, there's no question that the Korean government (especially at the city level in Seoul and provincial level in Gyeonggi) is trying to encourage entrepreneurship by foreigners.

2. Before you started KBC (and of course, before the Seoul Global Business Centers were launched) what was the foreign entrepreneur community/environment like?

The chambers of commerce from various nations have been around for a long time and they've been important resources for the foreign community. Before say, 2009, I'm not aware of other organizations that existed other than those.

3. Did Korea have a foreigner-business-friendly environment when you first launched your own business (the translation service)?

I should clarify that I don't serve many Korean clients at all; my clients are mainly in North America, with a few more in Europe and elsewhere in Asia. I guess the reason is that my rates are somewhat higher than the standard Korean market rates. I think this is reflected in the level of English translation many Korean companies put on their marketing and other materials, but there doesn't seem to be a focus on high quality in translation. I think this partially reflects a Korean view that translation is a relatively low-level occupation, best suited for people who have lost their "real" job.
Here are a couple links that illustrate this phenomenon: 
As for whether Korea has a foreigner-business-friendly environment, I would say that Korea is generally a particularly difficult place for foreigners to do business. There are cultural reasons for this, but I think language issues also make it very difficult for outsiders to understand and network. Even if they can, the importance of long-term relationships amongs Koreans makes it tough for foreign businesspeople to penetrate business networks in Korea. Further, government regulations have often obstructed the efforts of foreign companies, as well.

It's not just foreign companies that have trouble doing business in Korea though; Korean SME who don't have strong business networks struggle too, and I would say there are a lot of similarities between the difficulties of foreigners and of Korean small business people. Korea's just not a great place for the small business-person of any country.

4. Is KBC itself now profitable (through premium services, etc.)?

Our flagship product is the KBC Professional Certification Program, which we've developed to help foreign business people overcome the challenges of business in Korea mentioned above, has gotten a great reception. We've had over a dozen graduates so far and the graduate class continues to grow. KBC has also been a way for me to serve the community with free services, at the same time that I present my professional language and consulting services to members and visitors from around the world. We are still working on developing additional services that will be valuable for non-Koreans wishing to do business in Korea.

5. You said once that you didn’t expect KBC to grow into what it is now. What were your initial intentions for it then? Why do you think it has picked up so successfully?

My initial idea was to build a community to organically support member networking efforts both online and offline. However, it became clear that the effort was too high and the ROI too low to run things as just a gather place for member to connect and so we've been working hard to provide tools and content that will help members solve their immediate needs for services and knowledge. I would say that the "community" aspect of KBC has been de-emphasized this year while we've focused on the "solutions and tools" aspect.

6. What services do KBC provide that government-provided support, ie the SGBC, do not?

The SGBSC is focused on small-scale foreign entrpreneurs in Seoul. On KBC, we're able to serve a much wider group, including those both in and outside Korea, as well as those looking for jobs and/or working in Korean companies. From the beginning, I have supported the work of the SGBSC and they offer services and have a funded budget that we don't have on KBC, or plan to add. So, there's a lot of opportunity to help fill in the gaps on KBC which aren't easily filled by others.
One issue with the government-provided support is that it's sometimes provided from a Korean-perspective, and from a government perspective. On KBC, we have a lot more freedom from an agenda set by a government official, and we're in a slightly better position to see things from a foreigner perspective rather than Korean perspective of what they think foreigners are interested in.

7. What are your plans for KBC’s expansion?

I would like to add more content, tools and services which solve the interests of our members, which are mainly broken up into three groups: foreigners looking for jobs in Korea, foreigners working in Korean companies both in Korea and overseas, and foreigners wanting to do business with Koreans. One vehicle for that is the Business Accelerator pages, which are are both working to improve now, and add to later.

8. It seems that KBC’s forum threads often turn into discussions that span several months or even years. Do you think this is a pro or a con in terms of content relevance?

I've made a deliberate effort to keep useful discussions around by linking to them in the business accelerator pages. That's because the discussions often have remarkably valuable information and I want that to be available indefinitely. Just letting a discussion die and disappear doesn't seem like a good way to treat the insights which members have taken the time and effort to share.

9. The idea has been discussed on KBC forums that despite its business-pushing initiatives, Korea still lacks an entrepreneur-friendly environment. Do you agree? Do you think this can be remedied somehow, and what are your suggestions?

Korean business culture and the Korean business environment are what they are. Korea's never going to be an easy place for non-Koreans to do business, and the Korean economy is structured around the large business groups. As I mentioned before, it's not just foreigners who are struggling to compete in the local market; Koreans without capital, connections or advanced technology struggle too. These are issues the Korean government is working to solve, but they won't be easy to get past.

10. In a nutshell, what can you suggest for Korea to become more business-friendly for foreigner/expat entrepreneurs living here?

I'm not sure why Korea needs to be friendlier for foreigners that want to open up a small service business. If they can make a go of it, great.. But Korea's not short of restaurants or English institutes. On the other hand, the government is already going to great efforts to attract MNCs having large amounts of capital and advanced technology. It's a competitive environment out there for that and Korea's not achieving the levels of success they'd like. Organizations like GAFIC are helping with this, particularly in helping foreign-invested companies get over red tape issues, and it would seem that further Korean efforts to reduce regulations and free up the market would be beneficial for foreign businesses in Korea.
Do you have any thoughts about favors/benefits/services that foreigners/expats shouldn’t expect from the government? (If the question is confusing, I’m thinking about availability of content in English—whether that is something foreigners should expect or if they should be expected to learn the local language—and want to know if you have any other ideas.)
I don't think foreign expats should expect the Korean government to provide services that aren't going to provide Korea with an ROI on the investment. Translating laws and regulations might be great, but if there aren't enough businesspeople out there to read and take advantage of them, then what benefit is it to Korea? Those companies with the resources to truly make an impact in Korea (versus those who wish they could set up a sole proprietorship without capital and get a free visa out of it) are already paying companies like me to translate the stuff they really need to know.

11. Do you think foreigner-friendly initiatives here are mostly geared toward Western businesspeople, versus those from Asia, Africa, etc.? If so, is that problematic?

I supposed foreigner-friendly initiatives are more geared toward Westerners. It's not just Korea though that does this; since the money's in the West, you'd expect Korean efforts to follow that cash. I'm not sure though that capable Asians and Africans are really at a disadvantage if they can meet the requirements set by the government for business.

I think there's an overestimation among the foreign community of just how much Koreans need them. If someone comes to Korea to do business, they need to be ready to make the sacrifices to achieve success. Korea's not the land of the easy money; it's a great place to do business if one loves the country, makes the effort, holds realistic goals and/or has something unique to offer Korea that can't be found elsewhere.

Build a Business in Korea: “How would I go about forming a corporation and starting a business in Korea?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company.


"How would I go about forming a corporation and starting a business in Korea?"

"We’ve actually got an interview on Korea Business Central with Korean accountant Young Ham that explains the nuts and bolts of this very topic. Basically, fees come to around US$1,000 or so if you do it yourself, or a bit more if done through an accounting provider. Setup is just a few days and with a lot of free consulting available to foreign investors from the Korean government, it’s not all that hard.

This is just a quick overview; we’ve got full details on all of this on Korea Business Central, including links to the free resources I’ve mentioned and the interview with Mr. Ham."

 Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.


Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Build a Business in Korea: “Let’s say I wanted to start a company in Korea. First of all, what’s in demand? What industries offer the greatest chance of success?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company.


"Let's say I wanted to start a company in Korea. First of all, what's in demand? What industries offer the greatest chance of success?"

"There are a few approaches you can take. A good number of non-Koreans enter the English instruction market. Others set up companies that cater to the needs of the expat community or internationally-minded Koreans.

Focusing on larger businesses, some of the best opportunities come from providing services to Korean firms, and for that, the key is usually to have globally competitive technology. I’ve worked as a consultant to the Province of Gyeonggi, which is the area that surrounds the Seoul metropolitan area, and there are nearly 1,000 foreign-invested companies in this province alone. On closer observation, it turns out that most are involved in supplying technology-related products and services to the large Korean business groups.

Finally, thanks to the rapidly increasing number of free trade agreements that Korea has signed with the US, the EU and other countries and regions, tariffs are falling in a wide range of industries. Koreans import a lot of food from overseas, as well as raw materials and these also represent opportunities for foreign companies wanting to sell in the Korean market.

We did a case study with Tom Brown, former executive at Homeplus, one of the largest retailers in Korea, and completely foreign owned, and it was fascinating to find out what had worked for them and his suggestions to other companies that are breaking into the Korean market."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.

MainbannerLearn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.

Build a Business in Korea: “Why do you think non-Koreans have challenges doing business in Korea with Koreans?”

The following was extracted from a recent interview with me about how to build a business in a Korean company. 


"Why do you think non-Koreans have challenges doing business in Korea with Koreans?"

"There are a lot of reasons for that, and as you’ve mentioned, language and culture are the most obvious. But other factors also conspire to make things difficult.

For example, not all Korean computer systems are set up for non-Korean ID numbers, which can be a problem when handling paperwork.

Also, finding affordable accounting and tax prep resources, legal advice and other professional and consulting services in Korea that are knowledgeable about international business matters and speak English often requires a little extra effort.

Pre-established business networks among Koreans can be difficult to penetrate, which leads to both marketing and supply challenges.

Even things like foreign-investment friendly regulations may be tricky to sort through, not to mention the regulations that aren’t foreigner-friendly and are only accessible in Korean. I recently interviewed a government official about business visas for non-Koreans in Korea and amazingly, he explained to me that the business visa laws are not readily available in English, nor is there an English-language document anywhere that explains them in easy terms in one place. This makes the information I put together for KBC members after that interview all the more valuable."

Visit Korea Business Central for more information on doing business in Korea, including the full video of this interview.



Learn more about the KBC Professional Certification Program to be more successful in your career in Korea.