Bulgarians treat business meetings formally and show respect in adhering to formal protocols and conservative standards of dress. It is important not to underestimate the directness of Bulgarians. Even though people are more reserved in business situations, they are very direct, clear and explicit. Humour can be used in a meeting as a good way to break the ice. Be prepared for a long business meeting; it is common for meetings to last longer than the allocated time, so plenty of additional time should be scheduled between meetings. Patience and amicable relationships are crucial to success when doing business in Bulgaria.
Business Meeting Planning
It is important to make appointments in advance and try to avoid the main holiday periods. Usually appointments take some time to be organized, depending on the seniority of the person that you want to meet. Business appointments are normally planned two to three weeks in advance and should be arranged by making contact by telephone. . If you arrive at the place of business without an appointment, it is almost certain that you will not be able to meet with the person you are looking for.
Working hours are typically 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. The first meeting with a Bulgarian associate is usually for introductory purposes and no decisions will be taken. Typically, Bulgarians choose not to hurry when it comes to making important decisions. Also, business partners should keep in mind that Bulgarians are less-deadline oriented, particularly in comparison to most Western cultures.
When you talk with Bulgarians you need to remember that negotiations are typically held with the manager. The manager may take suggestions or be advised by employees, teams or advisory groups, but will make the final decision.
Bulgarians have very flexible negotiation skills and will volunteer personal comments and information to a greater or lesser extent.. They dislike being asked highly personal questions about their own education or friendships but will talk readily about political, cultural or societal subjects. In a business situation, individuals will be far more serious and cautious about what they are willing to divulge. Moreover, there are considerable differences in the approachability of people in the smaller villages than in the larger towns and cities. When you begin negotiations, Bulgarians are likely to get straight to the point and discuss the key problems up front. When all the business is covered, Bulgarians will stay at the negotiating table to drink coffee or tea with you and begin joking or ask you about how you feel about the country. They will give you suggestions about where to go to and what to try from the Bulgarian cuisines and may even invite you to dinner.
Bulgarians still enjoy combining business with pleasure, so negotiations will be accompanied by long nights in traditional local pubs with plenty of eating and drinking. Negotiations are not merely intended to reach an agreement, but also to make sure the visitor feel welcome.
Bulgaria is a moderately formal society, which means that initial greetings are always formal. When meeting people shake their hands firmly, maintain eye contact and use a suitable greeting for the time of day. It is better to refer to people by their titles (if you are familiar with them) or using Mr ‘Gospodin’ / Mrs ‘Gospozha’ with the surname. Only friends and family members will address each other by their first names and give each other a hug or kiss in public. A foreigner should always let the Bulgarian counterparts take the lead when communications become more informal. Business cards are always exchanged on initial meetings and having enough cards with you will make a positive impression.
How to Run a Business Meeting
Bulgarians organise meetings in a western style following strict protocols and procedures. It is important to allow enough time for business meetings, because they normally take more time than expected. Visitors are expected to be punctual or arrive several minutes early for an appointment. In case unexpected circumstances cause a delay longer than 10 or 15 minutes, it is better to call ahead, apologising for the delay with an expected time of arrival. Bulgarian business culture is hierarchical but the opinion of everyone involved is important and taken into account in the decision. More senior members have the most authority and demand a certain level of respect.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
Following up after a meeting is necessary to show that you care and have a desire for the relationship to succeed. Virtual meetings are considered poor substitute to in-person meetings and should only be used when necessary or to supplement the regular personal visits that are needed to maintain the level of trust and understanding. Business moves slowly in Bulgaria and detailed paperwork is essential for business transactions and clear communication. This is especially true when dealing with the Bulgarian government, as business transactions can be stalled by bureaucracy.
It is common for business contacts to have lunch or dinner together following their meeting, and whoever makes the invitation is normally expected to pay. Excessive drinking is commonly expected at a business meal and smoking is even common throughout a meal. However, legislation has recently been introduced that forbids smoking within a building.
Table manners tend to be casual, although there are some rules that ought to be respected. When invited to sit down at the table, wait for host to show you to your seat and allow the most senior person to begin proceedings, even if you are the guest of honour. The customary is ‘Nazdrave’, which means ‘good health’ and it’s very important to not only say it to the whole table, but also to every person while making eye contact.
If you are invited to dinner at the home of your business associate, it’s important to bring something for the host and hostess, such as a good bottle of wine or something sweet. Additionally, you will be more respected if you bring something ‘for the house’, such as a small souvenir from your home country. Avoid expensive gifts as the gesture could be misunderstood, but if the hosts have children, it is essential to bring some treat for them too in the form of chocolate or other sweets.
Lunch usually starts between 12.30pm and 1pm, whereas dinner starts between 7pm and 8pm. English is spoken in the majority of the big restaurants, particularly in the capital, Sofia.
Traditional dishes that are common for the Balkan region include: Shopska Salad, which is the most well-known salad and is a mixture of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and Bulgarian white cheese; kavarma, a spicy stew prepared in an earthenware bowl, banitsa, a layered filo pastry with a mixture of whisked eggs and pieces of white cheese, tarator, a cold soup made of cucumbers, yoghurt, garlic, walnuts, dill and vegetable oil. Other popular dishes are mousaka, shkembe chorba, and stewed beans. The combination of stewed meat, vegetables and spices is very typical in Bulgarian cuisine.
Business Meeting Tips
Business decisions are very often influenced by personal attitudes, so it is useful to create and maintain good relationships with partners.
It is common to celebrate a person’s name day as well as their birthday. Actually, a lot of Bulgarians recognise their ‘Name Day’ more than their birthday as a day when they bring drinks and treats into the office to share. All the people who are named after individual Saints celebrate their name day on the same day; for example, everyone named Maria celebrates Assumption Day, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
- DON’T underestimate the directness of Bulgarians. Despite their reserved reputation when it comes to business situations, communication is more direct and succinct.
- DON’T say “Chiao” as “Hello”
Learn more about the business culture in Bulgaria