In Indonesia, business is active at all levels, and networking comes in many forms. Most business is centralized in Java, with representatives in big cities on the other islands, such as Medan in Sumatera, Denpasar in Bali, and Makassar in Sulawesi. The networking style depends on which province you are at or ethnicity you are dealing with.
The Indonesian archipelago has over 17,000 islands include five big islands: Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua. There are 34 provinces in which over 261 million people from 300 ethnic groups with 700 native languages reside.
It is the world’s largest Muslim population country, with room for six official religions and many indigenous beliefs. All these differences come together under the national motto of Unity in Diversity.
The main entry points to Indonesia are the capital of Jakarta on the main island of Java, and Denpasar in tropical Bali. These two cities represent the main Indonesian business scenes; the hectic and formal environment of Jakarta and the laid-back culture of Bali.
The Business Scene in Indonesia
Indonesia has a large population, of which about half are below 30 years old, plus an expanding middle class. This powerful consumer force attracts businesses to Indonesia, including investors and buyers of main Indonesian commodities such as palm oil, rubber, and shrimps. Some of the country’s important industries are tourism, automotive, tobacco, and textiles.
The Indonesian government, under the leadership of re-elected President Joko Widodo, is focusing on infrastructure development to boost economic growth. The government also encourages export of value-added products instead of a raw commodity. Moreover, the ongoing Palapa Ring Project will provide high-speed internet access all over the country in the near future. This could stimulate the next wave of Indonesian decacorns and unicorn start-ups.
Jakarta, the political and economic center of Indonesia, is a sprawling metropolis while Bali is a melting pot of people from every corner of the globe. The luxury malls are inseparable from Jakartans’ hectic life because of the facilities, location, and pleasant temperatures. On the contrary, a business meeting in Bali could mean go to a place by the beach in a casual outfit and sips of wine or beer. In other words, business runs faster in Jakarta but more enjoyable in Bali.
It is recommended to establish and maintain a good network in business and government circles. Luckily, whether you’re a local or expat, live in town or just visiting, you’ll find something on. What’s New Indonesia is a great English resource.
Business networking in Jakarta is a way to build a social life, particularly if you are a newcomer in the city. Some activity groups and friendships started with networking events. In Bali, it is the other way around. Most of the business network start from social contacts, referral-based networking.
How We Connect & Network in Indonesia
Networking in Indonesia can be through a fitness center, cycling club, or association based on citizenship and industry. Jakartan networkers are familiar with various business events the city has to offer. While there is no shortage of these events, so we need to choose the right ones, or it could be quite a mismatch.
Most businesspeople will recommend the networking events of foreign chambers of commerce. The chambers usually have hundreds of corporate and personal members, existing networks, and decades of business experience. Monthly networking events are an opportunity to get together, make new business and social contacts while enjoying tasty food and beverages. The chambers also organize special events such as Christmas parties, golf tournaments, and joint events.
An annual membership fee applies in exchange for the benefits such as networking events, luncheon, meetings with government officials, complimentary publication, and so on. Non-members could attend most events at a higher cost. Some of many chambers of commerce in Indonesia are AmCham (USA), BritCham (UK), EKONID (Germany), EuroCham (Europe), ICCC (Canada), and JETRO (Japan).
Another popular option is to join business clubs or associations such as IABC (Indonesia-Australia Business Council), JFCC (Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club) or EIBN (EU-Indonesia Business Network). The clubs also hold regular networking and special events. Or join Jakarta Business Networkers (JBN) to gain new contacts, knowledge, and business referrals. It holds weekly and quarterly events.
Best known for the tourism industry, Bali is actually big in agriculture, art, and property. Some other industries include fashion, cosmetics, furniture, and liquor. The island houses corporate escapees in searching for a new path of life. Some of them have contributed to the community through volunteering and social entrepreneurship.
The business networking scene in Bali is mainly a referral-based. Start with small talk in a neighborhood coffee shop or school and be a part of the local community to meet other professional and entrepreneur in a casual setting. Business opportunities often discuss over BBQ dinner or weekend hangout. The networking events in Bali could be in the form of sailing around Benoa Harbor on a luxurious Phinisi boat.
The increasing number of digital nomads is the reason behind coworking space business in Bali, the latest addition to the networking spot in this nomad headquarters. Bali is home to Hubud, one of Forbes’ top 10 coworking spaces that support the location independence movement worldwide. It organizes hundreds of events throughout the year, from workshops to meetups and conferences for entrepreneurs, creatives, and digital nomads.
Annual National Day events held by embassies and consulates are also a great opportunity to meet many high-ranking diplomats, Indonesian officials, and business people. Unlike other networking events, you need an invitation to be able to attend. The invitees are both Indonesian and expat who have good relations with the hosts.
Indonesians use business cards widely, from individual consultants to SMEs and corporate folks. People exchange card during networking events and business meetings. The polite way to give and receive a business card (or anything else) is by using the right hand. Cards are usually stored in a card organizer and or into a contact management software and app.
Eight is a great choice because it allows quick and accurate scanning, and of people of different nationalities.
Tips for Doing Business with People from Indonesia
There is no single Indonesian culture, the country is an enormous collection of ethnic groups and traditions. The Muslims of Padang in the west and Christians of Manado in the east are very different, not only in religion but character, native language, food, clothing, and more. However, Java, as the country’s business center, has dominated the Indonesian business culture to date.
Indonesian tend to keep social harmony by being indirect and avoiding a confrontation as well as criticizing in public. Being indirect doesn’t mean dishonesty or hypocrisy, but simply know when to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself. If you want to criticize an Indonesian, create a one-on-one meeting, and gently explain without raising your voice. Be careful of jam karet, meaning an elastic time, Indonesian habit to arrive late for an appointment and blame it on the traffic or something else.
When addressing someone older, especially in a business environment, always use a title Bapak for men and Ibu for women before their name (Bapak Agus) or job position (Ibu Direktur). It is inappropriate to call someone without these titles unless they are your friend, your age, or younger.
Since Indonesian is very communal in nature, be ready to socialize with your colleagues and clients. Indonesian are very open to strangers. It is common to start a conversation by asking private questions such as age, marital status, and where do you live. When you don’t like a question, just respond with a joke or smile.
A personal approach has a significant effect on business relations. A little extra attention such as birthday cake or dinner invitation will nurture your relationship. Find a way to help them. It will benefit you in the long run. They will probably invite you to dine or party at their place. Please take your shoes off before entering the house, and beware of some seriously spicy foods out there.
When socializing with the local, remember that standing akimbo, sit with the feet pointing directly toward another person, and touching people on the head can be seen as disrespectful body gestures. Burping is acceptable, look the other way when someone does this but doesn’t apologize.
Religion, along with culture and tradition, deeply influences the local wisdom, and eventually the business culture. Every Friday, Indonesian will have a longer lunch break because the majority of the men will do the Friday Prayer. Balinese employees usually need more than the Indonesian standard of 12 days annual leave due to the numerous ceremonies throughout the year.
People call white expat Bule, an Indonesian word for Caucasian, or Mister and followed by given name if they know (Mister Jack). It is their way to say hi, just smile and nod. They may also stare and even ask to take a picture together as if you were a celebrity. They are just curious to them you are exotic.
Speaking Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) will be useful, even if you only know a few words and make mistakes. Keep practicing, Indonesian will appreciate your effort and tend to take your linguistic mistakes as a joke rather than insult. Daily practice with native speakers will be effective for a conversational level. If you need a business level Indonesian, join an online or offline course at Wisma Bahasa.
A personal approach has a significant effect on business relations. A little extra attention such as birthday cake or dinner invitation will nurture your relationship with colleagues and clients. Find a way to help them. It will benefit you in the long run.
How We Stay in Touch
As the country with the world’s fifth highest number of Internet users, staying in touch in Indonesia is often through social media platforms.
Popular choices are:
Bali has some active Facebook Groups for business, such as the Bali Business Community and Bali Expat Jobs. Member usually posts product and service promotions, job vacancy, or simply ask and give recommendations.
Internations is a platform to help expat’s life in a new country. The community consist of local and expat will share tips and experiences that can be useful for the transition. You can join professional networking or activity groups and attend the monthly networking events.
The famous LinkedIn is also good to connect with potential partners and customers. You can gain insight into the local situation by joining the LinkedIn Groups relevant to your industry or interest.
People with common interest connects through Meetup. There are numerous business groups such as Jakarta Social Entrepreneurs and Jakarta Business Owners, Investors & Professionals. Most of them hold regular events to maintain the community.
Indonesia has a promising future, considering the big and young population, government support, and rapid economic growth. A good network in business and government circles is essential when you do business in Indonesia. Fortunately, business networking is relatively easy since there are plenty of options and people are approachable. Choose your playground wisely and make the most of it.
If you are an expat, approach the differences with an open-mindedness. By understanding the cultures and behavioral patterns, you will overcome the challenge in a multicultural business environment. Act local whenever possible, keep in mind that respect is reciprocal.
Maximize the use of technology for maintaining business relations between the face-to-face meeting.
Most networkers struggle with post-event follow up. While a contact management app plus as social media platform can help you to tackle the issue, Eight offers both functions in one app. It’s a multi-purpose app to scan business cards, store the profiles in your account, and then quickly and easily connect with people. It’s even better if your connections are on Eight as well, because you can track their career progress when they update their card.
This creates many opportunities.
It’s always time to connect, communicate, and collaborate, and Indonesia is a wonderful place to do it.
A marketing communications consultant who has lived in six places in Indonesia, including Jakarta and Bali. She is currently developing a getaway destination in North Sulawesi.