Turkey is a very special country that is both modern and very traditional. Religion still plays a huge role in people's lives and affects the business culture as well. The way Turkish society is built and functions is somewhat different from what Western people are used to.
So, there are several crucial things to know before starting a business here as a foreigner. Today, we will cover the four most important factors that may affect the success of your business venture in Turkey.

Trust is сrucial

The business culture in Turkey is built around trust. Lots of deals are made and finalized by a handshake, while the paperwork is less important. This does not mean people here do not sign contracts, they do, but before signing they would like to know their new partner better. You should be prepared to attend multiple meetings, including meals, talking about personal things and discussing topics that are not connected to your business. Once people understand you as a person, it will be easier for them to switch to business.

Recommendations matter as well. If you've worked with someone before, and nowadays, the person is in a new company or has a partner you are interested in, a warm invitation will increase your chances to kick off the negotiations.

Religion still largely affects people's lives

Despite being a very modern country, religion (Islam) still largely affects many people's lives. The most obvious part - there are religious traditions like Ramadan month and the Sacrifice Feast holiday. You need to know what restrictions people put on themselves during such events (like fasting or avoiding doing business) to be more relevant in your communications and avoid embarrassing moments.

Turks want to see respect for their country

Turkish people are proud of their country, its history, wins and achievements. So, to establish a good relationship with a Turk, the best way is to talk about the country, ask questions, demonstrate that you have respect and knowledge about its past. Chances are your Turkish counterparts will be happy to talk about such topics, tell you some interesting stories, and such a conversation is perfect for melting the ice and moving forward.

Meetings and meals are important business tools

Even the global pandemic could not eliminate the passion Turks have for face-to-face meetings. Sure, today more and more negotiations are handled via Zoom, but there are still enough old-school people who prefer to talk in person. You have to be prepared for that. There are two options for conducting a business meeting: in the office, or in a restaurant. Both have their peculiarities.

There are several tips on what to expect at a regular business meeting:

  • A foreigner should always arrive on time, but Turkish partners may keep you waiting for them. This is absolutely normal, but it is a big no-no to be late yourself, especially with no warning.
  • Even in the office, nobody will start discussing business issues right away. There should be small talk, which may differ from what people in Western countries are used to. Instead of discussing the weather questions, Turks may start with some family-related questions, sports, or even politics. Don't be afraid, and be prepared to participate in such a discussion.
  • If this is the first meeting, there will likely be no decision-makers. Turkish companies usually have a strict hierarchy since many of them are run by families. The goal for the first meeting is usually establishing trust and senior managers will take into play when a certain level of trust has been established.
Business meals are another great tool that is widely used in Turkish business culture. There are some tips to follow as well:

  • Turks are proud of the national cuisine, so you should show your appreciation. Your hosts will expect that you will finish your food and drink a coffee (at least try it with several sips).
  • The host always pays the bill. An offer to share a payment may even seem rude. When it is your turn to be a host, you should not expect any bill sharing either.
  • It is desirable to let the host run the conversation. Insisting on discussing specific topics may seem weird to your counterparts.
  • Orthodox Muslims will not consume alcohol during the meeting, but some less religious people may drink. So, it is a good idea to wait and see what drinks people are ordering and follow them. If everyone drinks water or tea, stick with these beverages as well.
You have to be patient to run a business in Turkey

Turkey is a Mediterranean and Muslim country, where bargaining is an important part of the culture. People do not like making deals fast, negotiations may take long, and the hierarchy that we've mentioned above, also contributes to the decision-making time. Remember, you are a foreigner who has to melt the ice, show appreciation for the country, prove professionalism, and offer good terms. Once all these factors are in place, things will start moving, but not so fast.

The negotiation culture in Turkey does not imply being too pushy. Instead, you need to show respect in every detail. For example, if you are sending out a presentation, make sure it is full of nice visuals that make it easy for everyone to understand the pitch without actually reading the whole text.