How to do business in Italy – Our guide for your business in Italy
Italy is a developed economy with great potential but the cultural characteristics and the many layers of bureaucracy can make it difficult for companies to settle in Italy. To make sure that this doesn’t happen to you and that you are perfectly prepared for the Italian market, you will find important tips for your expansion into the Italian job market below.
Strengths of the Italian market
With its strategic location and an extensive network of companies, Italy is considered the ideal country for a company’s international expansion. Italy’s modern infrastructure and developed economy are attractive to foreign companies, as is Italy’s strength in areas such as life sciences, information and communication technologies, renewable energy, high-value consumer goods, high-tech design, and technical products.
Legal forms in Italy
As in other EU countries, freedom of establishment in Italy naturally applies to European companies and individuals. The Italian legal forms are thereby very similar to the German legal forms.
Possible forms of organization are
- Collective proprietorships (società in nome collettivo, snc)
- Limited partnerships (simple commandita company, sas)
- Stock companies (società per azioni, SPA)
- Limited partnerships on shares (società in acommandita per azioni, saa)
- Private limited companies (società a responsabilità limitata, srl)
- Simplified Ltd. (società a responsabilità limitata semplificata, srls)
Italian companies tend to have a pyramid-shaped hierarchy. This means that final decisions are centralised and are made by the people positioned at the top of the pyramid. Respectful interaction among colleagues but especially with the boss is therefore very important to Italians.
Dress code in Italy
Italy is the land of Prada, Gucci, and Armani, and first impressions are crucial for developing business relationships. Therefore, it is advisable to adapt to cultural conditions, also with regard to clothing. Dressing with elegance and verve can mean the difference between respect and derision, success, and failure.
For men, dark colours should be the rule. Black and navy blue suits are considered the most appropriate. In choosing their shirts, men have a little more freedom. Light colours are allowed as long as they match both your tie and business suit. Always wear a long-sleeved shirt, even in summer. Under no circumstances should you ever be seen wearing shorts, that distinguish you as a tourist and not as a professional business partner.
The same applies to women. At a professional meeting or gathering, women should wear dark business suits with a blouse underneath. At the office, dresses or skirts are acceptable as long as they exude a professional appearance.
Italians often build up relaxed personal relationships from the first time they meet. They also tend to be eloquent and curious. Questions about you, your family, and your personal interests are possible topics of conversation in Italy. Be aware, however, that this does not necessarily mean that you have already gained trust but rather that you are building trust in a business relationship with new contacts. It is just as important as presenting a business project.
It should be borne in mind that a number of issues are sensitive, e.g. politics, private family affairs, private income. Furthermore, even if your host has an explicit negative view of some aspects of the Italian situation, you should avoid expressing additional criticism of your own. On the contrary, films, sports, art, travel, fashion, etc. can be good topics for discussion.
The average level of language competence among Italians is below EU standards, especially among the older generation. English is the most common foreign language. French and German are also widely spoken in tourist resorts, as Italians in these areas are forced to communicate with foreigners in order to do business.
Usually, the first contact with an Italian business partner should be formal. A common way of making contact in Italy is over the telephone. Don’t hesitate to simply call your potential business partner. Recently, Italian companies have increasingly been using social media such as LinkedIn to promote their companies or to establish new business contacts.
If you don’t speak Italian, you should clearly state this in your letter, e-mail or message and indicate the language in which you feel more confident speaking. Furthermore, and especially at the beginning of the business relationship, it makes sense to use the services of professional translators. In this way, you will meet the needs of your business partners and show that you are a competent and reliable partner.
Plan business meetings
Before arranging a business meeting in Italy, you should be aware that it’s often customary in Italy to fix it in writing, preferably in Italian, about 2 to 3 weeks in advance. Avoid making appointments in August, as most Italian companies are closed during the summer months.
During the business meeting
Make sure that you prepare all printed materials in both English and Italian to avoid misunderstandings and save time translating in the meeting itself. If you are not fluent in Italian, it can be very helpful to hire an interpreter. This way, you can guarantee that your presentation is communicated and understood by everyone present at the meeting. It also shows your counterpart that you are a courteous business partner.
During the meeting, do not be surprised if you are interrupted while speaking. It is very common to speak in confusion. In Italy, people tend to be quite loud. Do not take this as a sign of anger, but rather as a need to be heard through other speakers in the room.
After the business meeting
The meetings usually serve to exchange ideas and express opinions. This means that you cannot always expect a final decision to have been made at the end of the meeting. Negotiations in Italy are slower, as Italians take time to assess the benefits and risks.
Conclusion of contract
It is advisable to prepare in advance for price and date negotiations in Italy. An interpreter should always be available to assist you, as the person who speaks English may not be the decision-maker. It is also advisable to rely on a team of experts who will accompany you throughout your multilingual communication process. In this way, the documents and contracts created can be perfectly adapted to your project.
Smylingua is at your disposal for the management of complex projects or your expansion to Italy or another country. We have a professional team of translators from each country, who are familiar with the cultural habits, codes, and customs of that country. Smylingua will be happy to help you develop a successful communication strategy that is perfectly adapted to the Italian market.
Our team is also ready to assist you with translations. Whether it is through audio transcriptions, linguistic audits, or InDesign translation. For further information or if you have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at +33 1 76 43 32 76.
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