Generalizations on doing business in the Canary Islands

Having attended one of the Mixtura Lab meetings on dealing with clients (here in the Canary Islands), I am republishing this blog entry. You might find it interesting to contrast and compare my business experiences with those of other expats living in Spain.

I’ve lived in the Canary Islands for 3+ years now and have been with Clevernet for 2+ years. I don’t consider myself a big success here because I simply do not have that many web development clients located here (but that could be due to the fact that we tend to work on really large web applications and not on straight web design). In any case, I am sharing my observations thus far. It is my hope that those who read this blog might be kind enough to share their cross-cultural business experiences as well. This is a topic I am quite fond of, personally, and would love to get a conversation going on doing business in the Canary Islands.

Please note: these are GENERALIZATIONS. These observations are NOT to be taken as hard and fast facts, they are simply summaries of some of the experiences I’ve had and are listed here to communicate trends. For each observation I’m pretty sure there have been one or two times when the opposite was the rule.

  1. Clients may try to re-negotiate a contract after the terms have been accepted by both parties, and sometimes after it has been signed. Furthermore, some clients actually believe this is acceptable behavior. I suspect this is a reflection of the fact that we are all here, together, on this island and must be reasonable with each other. Sticking it to your client, even when you have their agreement in writing, is likely going to bounce back on you and you end up sticking it to yourself in the form of a lack of future prospects. Listen to your clients ideas rather than rejecting them outright based on what you thought was a done deal.
  2. People are reluctant to put things in writing, or sign contracts. Much greater value is placed on original intent than what I’ve seen in the U.S. where you are required to agree to a wild variety of things before someone will sell you something, but it could just be that clients want a way to back out if needed. So far we’ve never had a single client back out of an oral agreement, so, I believe it is the former rather than the latter.
  3. A successful negotiation takes into account customary financial arrangements such as:
    • arranging financing around delays introduced by government subsidies
    • providing proforma invoices
    • providing a single invoice, against which multiple payments will be made over the course of the year
    • the use of avales to secure contracts
    • electronic delivery of invoices must be negotiated and follow some very strict rules (although almost nobody does)
  4. When talking to potential clients with whom you have no prior relationship, show reverence, don’t ask too many questions, just let the potential client tell you what he/she wants. This is particularly difficult for someone like me who is used to playing the role of the “solution provider” in technical areas where the client usually has little or no idea of what they really need. I tend to assume a level of trust that, as far as the potential client is concerned, doesn’t exist. I haven’t done anything to win their trust yet, and when working with an outsider, trust is not assumed.
  5. The Chicago tactic of pointing out a clients’ failures in their existing systems tends to hurt your clients’ pride and does little to convince them to work with you, even if your intention was to help them see where they could improve. Again, the trust thing…
  6. Although favors are common currency here (and sometimes greatly appreciated), even small ones can be costly. Failing to recognize when someone has done you a favor has been the end, or near end, of more than one business relationship here so far. I have no problem doing favors, but am uninterested in developing a relationship based on them (that’s what friends and relatives are for).
  7. Be sensitive toward your clients. Try to do things their way even if in the long run you plan on doing them differently. For example, it is particularly important to deliver bad news in person, never through email or SMS. Likewise, good news is also best delivered in person, or at least via a cell phone call.

Here are some more, even more general observations:

  • It’s hard to tell what attitudes or customs are the result of living on an island and what come from Spanish tradition.
  • Language skills seem to matter far less than people skills, but listening closely is a very important people skill.
  • In general people are very punctual, contrary to popular mythology, but they will frequently ask you to call the morning of a meeting to make sure they can really make it (something that drives me crazy – if I schedule an appointment with you, do we really need to double-check the morning of?)

So, that’s my list at this point in time. It will be interesting to see how it changes 10 years down the road. Please feel free to leave a comment. It is no longer necessary to register.

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