Making it big in China

by Sam Booth
Published on January 2019

Today we explore and try to bring some clarity to setting yourself up online in China.

For much of the 20th century, the holy grail for most businesses (and indeed pop stars) was to make it big in America, it presented (and still does) a huge market with massive rewards for successful entrants in both fame and fortune. The path to entry into the States is now one that is well worn and one that has been made considerably easier by advances in technology and the ability to sell across borders online. However, the world is changing fast and many eyes are now drawn to China. Growing wealth and access to well over a billion people is hard to ignore for most businesses.

Differences in language, culture and the regulatory landscape do make it a more challenging market to enter but as many international companies have proven, it is not impossible. With 800 Million internet users in China, building a digital or online presence in China is key to success.1

The journey to China may seem daunting but it can be broken down into easy to manage steps.

Here is our (quick) guide to making it big in China.

application 1. You need to be registered – If you intend to sell or even want to market effectively in China you are going to need to have a registered business in China. The good news is this can be any type of Chinese business licence holder (foreign owned, Chinese owned, and even individuals as long as they are present in China). You can enlist the help of a fixer in China to help get this done. Much of the documentation will be in Chinese so it is worthwhile finding a partner you trust at this stage.

This process will also make it much easier (and give you more choice with a registrar) for your .cn domain name.

 2. Choosing a host – If you are hosting your website or app outside of China performance will likely be limited. This is where most people go out and find someone offering a CDN (Content Distribution Network) with nodes in China. These are generally not full proof solutions as they do not take into consideration any of the licencing considerations we are about to come onto, and furthermore, they are generally expensive when compared to your public cloud hosting.

The second option is to use a worldwide Public Cloud platform who often have arrangements to be able to provide China hosting through partners. This comes with its own perils as it does mean services offered are limited and local customer support is provided through their partners rather than directly. Not to mention the multiple accounts required to manage China and international services.

Our preferred route here at Just After Midnight with these use cases is to use Alibaba Cloud, it is one of the largest Cloud platforms in the world and it has the obvious and distinct advantage of being part of the Alibaba Group, a multinational conglomerate with its hub in China and specialisations in commerce, cloud computing, digital media and entertainment and innovation.2 Alibaba offer a unique product (CEN) that accelerates performance of multi-regional networking across the Cloud, avoiding any cross-border latencies.

What most people do not know about Alibaba Cloud is that they have a network of regions across the globe and have recently launched in London (November 2018) to complement their other European data centers. This means you can now host your website across London and Chinese data centres with direct connectivity without the need for multi-cloud and expensive CDN solutions.

optimisation 3. Licencing – So once the host is selected you need a licence. There are two types, an ICP filing and an ICP licence. It is hard to pin down an exact definition but broadly speaking you will need an ‘ICP filing’ to show any content and as soon as you add transactions (a payment gateway for example) then you will need to upgrade to an ‘ICP licence’. Either way the ICP filing is a must.

This can all be done online via an interface in the Alibaba Cloud portal. It needs to be completed in Chinese and you will need your aforementioned company registration documents to complete the process. The exact process and rules vary from province to province but it is broadly similar.

To apply you will need a Chinese speaker, someone on the ground in China with a local telephone number during the process, a host (Alibaba Cloud) with the real name registration process completed (simply uploading your company docs), and you will also need a public IP on a Chinese server available for them to check during the process (you should not put any content on this server whilst doing the ICP filing).

The filing, officially, takes 20 business days to come through but this can be anywhere from three days to several months (if you have any errors in the filing of a complex case). Alibaba Cloud partners can help you through this process.

consulting 4. Localise your content and separate your data – we recommend that you spend time localising your websites to the market, whilst language is an obvious one there are many other factors to consider. For example, in China, mobile is way more predominant than in Europe, whilst we have the notion of ‘mobile first’ many Chinese consumers would not have even used the web on a desktop/laptop so it really has to be your primary focus. Another thing to consider is where you are promoting your product and service – for example in China people use many local Social Channels. These channels are used not only to communicate but also to complete numerous tasks and activities such as booking taxis or scheduling a meeting. You need to make sure you are aware of the whole digital ecosystem in the region and that you are working with the right partner to help you leverage the right systems.

Unless you have been living under a rock you will probably by now understand the GDPR regulations and the need to protect citizens data. The Chinese authorities also value the privacy and data protection of their citizens (under the Cyber-security law) and are implementing similar laws. We have worked with a number of clients to work out how to synchronize content yet separate citizen data to local storage.

Once you have done these four steps you can put your live content on servers and begin marketing to an extra billion customers, it is not the easiest process in the world but it is a process nonetheless and with some time, patience and expert guidance you too can make it happen. The rewards are certainly worth the risks.

With offices across Asia and in the UK and as one of the first Alibaba partners in the UK, we Just After Midnight can help you with your journey to hosting in China. Get in touch today to learn more.

If you are a digital agency supporting clients who are expanding into Asia or looking to grow your own agency in Asia, do join us for our ‘Go East’ event on Thursday 7th February organised by Just After Midnight and Alibaba Cloud, which will explore Asia-Growth strategies for digital agencies. Register here.



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