Guanxi: The Secret to Importing Success

This week we are lucky enough to host our first guest post, from serial entrepreneur James Holden. Tomorrow he is visiting Mast House to discuss one of his businesses, Celebrity Inspired, his recent business trip to China and aspects such as his involvement with our Beta Enterprise Programme.


Importing from China can be as simple as finding a supplier’s email address, sending some money via PayPal and then waiting for the product to arrive in the post. However, the likelihood is that you may be waiting a very long time for delivery, only to be attacked with unexpected customs fees, and when you do receive the product you realise the quality is awful.

Money does not make the world go round, people do. This is why it is so important to remember that the Chinese person you are talking to is a real person, in a real office, with a real factory with hundreds of real workers. When importers recognise the supply chain they obtain far more success than those who simply treat China as a quick and easy way to make profit.

In China, business deals are based on trusted relationships built over time. This is called Guanxi, which can roughly be translated as ‘networking’. More than just talking about your business, take the time to get the right connections, know your connections well, build trust and create goodwill. China is moving at warp speed, but relationships develop slowly.

JH 2
James Holden practising “Guanxi”

Although I have personally been to China to meet with my suppliers at their office and factory, along with going out to lunch with them, it is not vital in the early stages of a business relationship. There are many ways you can build Guanxi from the comfort of your home or office.

  • Stay connected with your Chinese colleagues through social networks and instant messaging services. These are not the same as we have in England – you will need to have accounts on QQ and WeChat.
  • Send small but thoughtful gifts or business mementos. These need not be expensive items.
  • Ask for small favours from time to time to keep the relationship active.
  • Be willing and available when such favours are asked of you.
  • Research the major Chinese holidays and remember to send greetings.

As you develop Guanxi with Chinese suppliers you will notice better quality products, faster manufacturing times, lower minimum order quantities (MOQs) and perhaps lower prices.

Guanxi is fundamental to your success in China and you must never underestimate that.

Guest Post by James Holden

James Holden, serial entrepreneur.
James Holden, serial entrepreneur.

James Holden is a serial entrepreneur with strong ties to The Futures Entrepreneurship Centre, having completed an internship within the centre and been active with the Beta Enterprise Programme.

James has a personal website detailing his previous endeavours, click here to access it. He also has two fashion websites: BêJaKs and Celebrity Inspired.

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