Guide to WeChat (微信) Messaging + Chat

Charlie CampbellMarketing, Social Media, WeChat1 Comment

WeChat Messages = The Bridge to Chinese Business

WeChat was born to instant message via mobile (get the name…’We’ ‘+ ‘Chat’?). All design decisions have focused on improving the native messaging user experience and as you’ll soon learn, has worked magically.

By the end of the article, you’ll be a WeChat machine and ready to make the leap, if you haven’t already, into the world of business with China.

Here are a few reasons why WeChat is critical to operating in China:
  • Texting/email is dead: WeChat won out as China’s primary mode of communication, from government officials to students.
  • Humanize communication: Email comes across as a detached form of communication, while WeChat humanizes messaging. Don’t hold back 😄😄😄
  • Multimedia files: Send any and all forms of media. Company introductions, decks, products, are all shared via WeChat.
  • News spreads fast: Information moves at lightning speed and is a must for business to understand.
Below is an outline of features you’ll learn, and I’ve bolded topics you should pay particular attention.
  1. Home Screen
  2. Chat
    1. Messaging
    2. Voice Recordings
    3. Emojis + Stickers
    4. Recall Messages
    5. Autotranslate
  3. Features
    1. Photos/Videos/Sights
    2. Phone Calls
    3. Video Calls
    4. Location Sharing
    5. Money Transfers
  4. Tips & Tricks
 Feel free to leave questions in the comments, and I’ll write back as best I can.

Home Screen

WeChat’s home screen is the chat/messaging feature and speaks volumes to fundamental nature of the app.

Homepage, or “Chats.”

The Home Screen shows your contacts chat history in one place. Chats is an infinite scroll, where you can find dialogues you’ve had with people from forever ago.

Pro tip: you can swipe left to mark messages at “unread.” With the volume of messaging coming at you, it’s helpful to mark them as unread as a todo list.

Search Bar

At the top of the Home Screen, you can search the entire app, which includes contacts, chat history, groups, content etc. Search has greatly improved with time and I imagine will only continue to do so.

“+” in Upper Right

Click the “+” in the upper right, and you can create a new chat (individual or group), add new contacts, scan QR code, or can transfer money (pay vendors or receive money).

To create a Group Chat, click the “+,” then “New Chat,” and you can select people to pull into a group. They do not need to accept, but can opt-out to leave. Ideal for teams.

Feel free to add me! Search “bampbell” and write “Made In Charlie” in the subject line, so I know where you came from. I’d be honored to be your first friend.


To message a friend, navigate to the “Chat” page and click on a friend to enter their chat. Welcome to the core interface!
Messaging Screen
From this screen, you’re able to send text, voice recordings, emojis, GIFs, photos, videos, “sights,” make phone calls, video calls, your location, red envelopes, and even transfer money.


Messaging Interface

Text Box

Sending text is just like iMessage or other text messages services.

Voice Recordings

Click the button on the left, and it will take you to the voice recording. See the screenshot below for what it looks like.

Each voice recording can be a maximum of 60 seconds. Trust me…once you get used to leaving voice messages, you’ll never go back! It’s a great way to communicate, especially because there are no voice mails in China.

Fun fact: Voice recordings solved a unique Chinese language problem. There are common two ways to “type” Chinese: (i) writing the character with your finger on the phone; (ii) using pinyin – a letter version of Chinese used by language learners and the younger generation. Both work, but aren’t efficient. Walkie-talkieing directly into a phone is far easier and became one of the most liked features in WeChat overnight.

Emojis+ GIFs + Stickers

Emotions, GIFs, and Stickers are used heavily in China. Almost every message I receive comes along with some form of emoji.

You can go to the sticker market to download the latest greatest stickers. Almost all of them are free.

Custom made GIFs are hilarious…and sometimes quite dirty. If there are ones you particularly like, press and hold to save GIF to your phone.

Press and Hold

Press and holding on messages gives you more flexibility in engaging / relating content.

Press and Hold Message


You can forward articles, photos, videos, text, really anything. If you want to forward more than one message as once, click “More.”

You can either send “One by One” or “Combine and Forward” which bulks them together and sends all at once.


If you favorite a message, it saves it to your profile for you to go back and look at it later. Users can’t see what you favorite or don’t favorite.


Delete only deletes the message, photo, video, etc. from your WeChat, not the person you’re chatting with. Like any content nowadays, be careful what you send out :).


Have you ever sent an email you regret or wanted to take back? I know I have. Well…WeChat gives you an option to do just that – they call it “recall.”

You have 2 minutes to recall a message once after sent. Yay! But, what’s funny, is you can see that the sender recalled the message.

Sometimes “recall” invites more questions than sending your original message :). Please do share stories in the comments.


Here’s a juicy feature….autotranslation. WeChat has a built-in feature to auto translate Chinese <> English.

Press and hold a Chinese message, click “more,” and then translate. I can’t stress enough how helpful this when trying to communicate with native Chinese speakers. All of your messages are translated into English and allows for broken, albeit effective communication.

If your phone is in English, WeChat will translate into Chinese. If your phone is in Chinese (not likely 😃), it will translate into English.


Great job! We’ve covered the core features of WeChat messaging…yet there is so much more.

Click the “+” sign on the right side of the screen, and an additional feature menu will pop up.
This menu allows you to send photos/videos, take photos/sights, make video calls, voice calls, send your location, gift red envelopes, transfer money, and share contact cards.


Sending photos/videos is a great way to communicate. A lot of time can avoid a ton of translation error. I’ve personally found I send a ton of screenshots.

Existing Photos/Videos

WeChat sends photos/videos incredibly fast by automatically compressing them load/send faster.

You can send up to 9 at a time directly from your image library or take them live. You select photos by checking photos.

When friends show you photos, you can press and hold pictures and save them directly to your phone. Never lose a photo again!

 New Photos

You can take new photos, or what WeChat calls “sights” directly in the chat screen. Once you click “camera,” here is the interface you’ll see.

You can press the middle which will take a photo. Or hold down the button and it will record a sight. New photos automatically save to your phone.


Sights are short, 9 sec videos inside of WeChat. They are an excellent way to send clips of your day to friends and clients.

“Sights” humanizes you and adds a new dimension to messaging.

Phone Calls

One of the challenges with international business are clear, affordable phone calls. Phone to phone connection is reliable but can become incredibly expensive. Skype numbers are inexpensive, but you’ll show up as an “unknown caller” on the China side, and the connection is spotty at best.

Concerning connectivity, quality, and price – WeChat is the best and is what I use. It just works….and is free. You can hold group calls with up to 9 people.

The only downside is if you receive a regular phone call while on a Skype call, it will cut you off. In the Tips & Tricks section, I’ve included a workaround.

Video Calls

Video calls are just like FaceTime…it just works better on Chinese bandwidth. Over the past few years, I have felt/seen a decline in Skypes connectivity in China, and WeChat reigns supreme.

Video calls only work one on one (for now), there are no group video calls.


Sending a location is a surprisingly helpful feature, especially when you’re in a foreign country. There are two ways to do it.

When you click “Send Location,” you’ll be able to type in an address and send a pin.


I use it to record places I’ve been, or if I want to remember a good restaurant. Or, if you’re looking for a factory, your contact can send you the pin, and it will be easy to fin.

Real-time Location

Another spinoff of the location is to share your “real-time” location.

Real-time location sharing comes in handy if you’re close by, or wanting to follow somebody that lost you on the road. I’ve found it’s more accurate than dropping a pin. While sharing, you can walkie-talkie to your friend.

Red Envelope

Previously I wrote about Red Envelope giving.

It’s incredibly fun when you’re in a large group to send red envelopes. You specify the total money, the number of people to split, and it becomes a lottery for money. Users click the red envelope and receive some percentage of the total proceeds.

Red envelopes offer an excellent opportunity for team building, especially in/around holidays.

Money Transfer

One of WeChat’s most impressive features is the ease at which you can transfer money. Cash will be nonexistent in China before we know it.


Easy as pie..for starters, why don’t you wire me 1 RMB. In a later post, I’ll explain how best to turn USD into RMB.

Now that you’re a WeChat pro, I’d like to share some Tips and Tricks.

Tips and Tricks

If I missed any….let me know!

Airplane Mode for Phone Calls

The biggest downside to WeChat phone calls is they drop if another call comes in. Solution? Airplane mode.

Since you can make the calls via Wifi, it’s easy to turn off cell data and operate over Wifi only. This guarantees you won’t drop the call. I highly encourage you to have the China side do the same.

Special Events

One of the cool, unknown features of messaging is when you say keywords like “Happy Birthday” or “Merry Christmas” on a holiday. Try it out and let me know what you see.

Send screenshots to other people

An easy way to report conversations, or to keep your team updated, is just to screenshot dialogues and forward to your team.

PS: One of the bonuses of sending voice recordings is there is no “screenshot” paper trail.

I’m 100% confident you are well on your way to becoming fluent in WeChat…your business with thank you.

Leave your comments/questions below and I”ll answer them to the best of my ability. Look forward to more WeChat guides soon!

Thank you so much for reading.

WeChat (微信) for Beginners: Introduction

Charlie CampbellMarketing, Social Media, WeChat5 Comments

WeChat is the window into China everything. It’s a way for you to connect with friends, do business, and reach millions and millions of people. In a few short years, WeChat has grown from nothing into a messaging and marketing giant. Mobile China = WeChat.

WeChat is owned by Tencent (founders of QQ, another popular messaging app) and by the numbers, is one of the largest social networking apps in the world. As of August 12, 2015 WeChat has 600 million monthly active users (MAUs). Twice the population of the United States.

WeChat is a messaging service with an explosion of features on it’s mobile-only platform. Connie Chan from Andreessen Horowitz wrote an amazing deep dive summary into WeChat’s history and future. Highly suggested for an in-depth review of WeChat’s business fundamentals.

I want to introduce WeChat basics so marketers and normal people like you and I can better operate in China. I’ll cover:

  • Why WeChat is important
  • How to set up the English version
  • Find and add friends
  • Feature introduction

In the meantime, I encourage everybody to download the app and I can be your first friend (id: bampbell).

WeChat can be downloaded from the app store either in English or Chinese depending on your phones default language. It’s best if you use a Chinese cell phone number to register, it will open up a lot of features but a US number works as well.

Why it’s important you start using WeChat

China is a massive market everybody is trying to figure out and get a piece of (myself included). WeChat is a perfect gateway drug to getting your feet wet with a built-in translate feature for non-mandarin speakers so you can begin to build a network.

WeChat serves a lot of different purposes for different people. Personally I have two accounts: one for business and one for pleasure. Here is some areas of your life it will improve.

Social Life

You’re entire social life will be run through WeChat. Guaranteed. People prefer to use WeChat over phone calls…yikes.


Business executives, managers, employees, and businesses themselves all have WeChat accounts and use them daily. China never caught the email bug and have always preferred instant messaging. We now are seeing a transition from QQ (basically IM) to mobile messaging aka WeChat.

WeChat makes it easy to set up call times in different timezones and stay in touch with what’s happening in your business on the ground through images/videos. It has been the silver bullet on our nursery business.


WeChat uses the ‘app within an app’ model and already hosts millions of mini apps on its platform (See Connie Chan’s article above). Marketers can target ming boggling numbers of active Chinese users through ‘official accounts’. This is important because Chinese consumers are notoriously difficult to reach and WeChat is a perfect platform to reach your target.

How to find/invite friends

There are a lot of different ways to add people on WeChat. Below are the most common. WeChat follows the Facebook model of adding/accepting friends rather than an open platform like Twitter.

User ID (usually their Chinese cell) — most common unless you’re standing next to them


QR code — fastest and most used method of adding people on WeChat, especially face to face






Other — there are other ways like shake or recommended friends but these are the ones you’ll use most

Accepting friend requests — Once somebody has added you, it will pop up under recommended friends



WeChat is loaded with features and continues to expand their offerings focused on utility rather than fluff. I still remember when it was an ugly black/white screen you could send messages over wifi.


Messaging is the core of WeChat and it’s main interface. You can send text, images, videos, files of all formats (.pdf, word, excel), voice recordings, stickers, and short 5 second videos.


You communicate directly with friends, not with strangers. It’s similar to Facebook but focused on the messaging rather than the ‘wall post’ model.  Facebook went from wall -> messages, WeChat has grew from messenger -> wall (aka moments). Far more utilitarian.

Voice messages

Users are able to walkie talkie into WeChat and leave a voice message (max 60 seconds). What’s culturally interesting about voice recordings are they avoid one of the most anoyying parts of Mandarin Chinese: typing characters. Unbelievably more efficient.

wechat-voice recordings

Autotranslate (yay!)

WeChat translates messages directly in app by pressing and holding messages. If your default language is English, it will automatically translate into Chinese and vice versa for Chinese <> English. Amazing feature for people living in China that don’t speak Mandarin.


Send images/video

WeChat automatically compresses images/videos and you can send up to 9 images at a time – either by taking them new or selecting them from an album.



Record and send 6 second clips either directly to other users via messenger or in the moments feature. Think Vine but built in.


Voice/video calls

Voice and video calls are embedded into the messaging feature. Voice/video calls are made natively through WeChat and can only be made through the platform (for now) and seems to be faster than Skype.


Group messaging

Pretty self explanatory. You can create a group and take advantage of all messaging features.




Group messaging alone is a gigantic time saver. One message can prevent an entire 30 minute meeting with our staff.


Moments deserves it’s own post. Imagine Facebook as a mobile only version of News Feed. You post articles, pictures, sights, or just their thoughts.


For each post you can either ‘like’ it or ‘leave a comment’. If I comment on a post, if we’re not mutual friends, the third party won’t see my post. This is another level of privacy for users posting personal content to their WeChat.

Another useful feature is you can highly target your readers by selecting who to send content to. This is awesome for marketers who want to send more directed adds at their audiences.

Can’t tell you how many people use this. Everywhere you look, they are spending the majority of their time on moments. I’ll be experimenting with ways to better target readers.


One of the strongest features of WeChat is it’s payment system. It allows payments to be paid directly through the platform itself and businesses can accept payment instantaneously. Through the payments platform you can: book a hotel, taxi, doctors appointment etc.

Payments bring the most important factors to business natively inside of the app: money. Through official accounts, businesses can reach users directly and in a more intimate way.

Note: this requires that you have Chinese cell phone number to sign up. I’ll think of a workaround method to hacking this so people can gain access to this feature.

I owe my social life and business to WeChat while living in China. It has served as an invaluable tool and I’m sure will continue to only get better. Moving forward, I can’t wait to see just how deep it can infiltrate everybodys lives.

How have you used WeChat? Leave any comments of your own experiences with WeChat!

Chinese Phone Habits: Anywhere, Anytime

Charlie CampbellChinese CultureLeave a Comment

Understand Phone Habits in China

Cell phones are an integral part of Chinese society. If you’ve been, or plan to go to China, you’re going to experience the difference in our cultures when it comes to habits talking on the phone.

Below I’ll explain some dos, don’ts, and context as to how these practices came about

To summarize, you’re going to learn how to properly communicate over the phone and the habits involved.

Get off the phone and lets rock and roll!

Industry Background

Modern cell phone towers/service providers as we know started in 1987. From 1987 to 1994, all telecom services were provided through a state-run China Telecom.

In 1994, China started restructuring the industry continued to do so until in 2002 – basically turning a monopoly into an oligopoly. Restructuring leads to more competition, which meant better service (aka better reception) and the industry exploded. Flash forward to 2008 and the industry as a whole is a state-run oligopoly.

As of 2017, there are three dominant telecom service providers domestically in China, all state-run.

  • China Mobile
  • China Unicom
  • China Telecom

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the industry background, Wikipedia does a nice job: Telecommunications Industry in China. Or to learn more about the mobile history, here’s a link to wikipedia as well: Mobile Phone Industry in China.

Market dynamics caused to spotty cell service (at best) for the longest time, and created interesting phone habits we don’t have the United States, which we’ll cover in a minute.

But this article isn’t about the telecom industry, it’s about you learning how to wade through the phone day to day.

On the phone


In the US, it’s pretty simple. Phone rings, “Hello?”. Done.

China is different. Chinese has a word only for picking up the phone – phonetically it sounds like “wei”.

wei= hello on the phone

I’m not old enough to know when this phenomenon started happening but it did.

Here are a few of my own renditions of the “wei”.

It’s a way to let the other side know that you’ve answered and acknowledged they are there.

Try it out yourself!


During a phone call in China, they have a habit of saying “mm” or “hm” every 5 seconds or so. Without recording an entire dialog, it sounds something like this.

As we noted above, cell reception/service used to be incredibly spotty, and calls dropped all the time. Thus, it is courteous to let the other party know that you are on the other line with them. A great way of going…mm or hm.

Don’t be alarmed or surprised if they are doing this, even in English. It can also be seen as a sign of respect for listening.


I’ve got to admit, this has been some of the most entertaining experiences with Chinese culture. To understand, you’ll need a quick Mandarin lesson.

好的 “hao de” = ok, or good, or yes.

It’s one of the most commonly used words in the Chinese language.

We all know there are ebbs and flows to phone calls, and you know you’re coming up to the end on one in Chinese when people are saying…

“hao hao hao hao hao hao hao hao” or “hao de hao de hao de”

Sounds like this:

All of this sounds funny at first but legitimately is a way to wind down phone calls. You can also get fancy and do it to let the person on the other line know “this phone call is coming to an end”.


When the phone call is coming to an end, they all speak English. “Bye bye” is the go to. I don’t know when this caught on but is widespread, amongst old and young. After moving back to the states, I realized I now even end phone calls with “bye bye”.

Fun fact: In written form, it’s 88. Did you know that?

In summary – pick up the phone with “wei”, give a lot of “mm”s during the conversation, and end with saying “hao hao hao hao” –  bye bye.

Phone Habits

Understanding their habits is more about you accepting their cultural differences when it comes to telephone communication. Below I’ll explain some of the differences you’ll experience.


People take phone calls everywhere. Even while you’re in meetings, big or small, people will pick up their mobiles. Every time the phone rings, it’s like the rest of the world must stop. It doesn’t matter if it’s the President or a number they don’t recognize, it’s a fire drill.

Culturally this is not a sign of disrespect, it’s just how their society works.

Time of Day

Phone calls happen all the time. 24×7. When we were building out our first nursery in Haining, I’d be getting phone calls at 1am from suppliers with updates. No joke.

Don’t be surprised to get phone calls on weekends/evenings either, the country is in go mode.


A big reason why they pick up the phone like it’s their last is that China doesn’t have voice mails. At the end of the call, if the other side doesn’t pick up or denies it, it just stops ringing.

Think about how much data that would be with 1.3 billion people. With a near 100% mobile penetration (29.6% on 4G as of 2016), it’s would be a TON of bandwidth.

Thank goodness for WeChat voice messages (see my previous post on WeChat messaging). Voice messages filled the gap of voice mails. If you don’t get ahold of somebody, it’s normal to leave them a voice message on WeChat. Before WeChat, I don’t know what they did…

Voice Volume

People generally talk LOUD on the phone. Not just sorta loud, LOUD Explained in the industry background, I think it’s due to the historical bad reception, as well as China being a noisy place.

When I set up our first office, it was one big room in a farmers house with horrible acoustics – it was a cement room with no rugs. Mr. Gu, our HR manager at the time, had a booming voice and when he was on the telephone, the whole world knew.  I had to coach him to be more respectful with his voice to manage the noise pollution.

So….don’t be surprised or upset if people are talking loudly.

Unknown Numbers

You’ll get plenty of spammy calls, similar to the states.  Be prepared for them.

My favorite trick is to speak English only. Most of the time, they don’t understand English and is an easy way to end the call. But be nice and be thankful that it’s not your job…it’d be a tough one.


To summarize:

  • Learn how to handle yourself on phone calls listening to the audio files above
  • Prepare yourself for the unique phone habits when you go over there, or are dealing customers/clients in the states
  • Practice understanding where they are coming from and why they do what they do.

Doing business with China, you’re going to learn/experience so much, and my hope is to make the transition as easy as possible for you.

I invite you to leave stories, comments, or questions below of what you’ve experienced. And if you like the content, please subscribe to my email list to be updated when new posts come out.

….hao de hao de hao hao hao, bye bye.

Red Envelopes: Create a Culture of Private Giving

Charlie CampbellHR, Management1 Comment

The infamous ‘红包 hong bao’

red envelopes hong bao

Handing out red envelopes (“红包” or pronounced “hong bao” ) is a custom that dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Before and during Spring Festival, companies, families, and friends dish out large amounts of cash all tucked into a red envelopes.

Red envelope giving is a society wide method of appreciation for family, friends, and employees. This act is shrouded in privacy and laced with tons of incentives which used properly can be an incredibly powerful tool. Private giving is infinitely better than public giving and drives why red envelopes are so effective. 

Below I’ll explain why private giving is so important, what red envelopes are, the ideas driving incentives, how our company handled it this year, and I added a bonus section on WeChat.

  • Private giving leads to private contribution
  • What is a red envelope?
  • Ideas driving incentives behind red envelopes
  • How we personally distributed them and why
  • BONUS – fun game of WeChat + red envelopes

My hope is this serves as a thought guide for you and your company around Spring Festival or if you have Chinese friends. It’s a huge advantage if done correctly.

Private giving leads to private contribution

We’re taught from a young age true giving should happen silently and privately. Those who publicly announce their giving, the reward ends at the announcement. When you give in private, will be rewarded in more ways than you know, especially in the context of an employer-employee relationship.

Think about it this way. If everything you do to acknowledge employees is public (which should happen from time to time), they will want all of their good deeds/accomplishments public as well. Creating a perverse internal political culture that leads to brown nosing rather than driving value to the bottom line.

On the other hand, a private reward system encourages employees to privately add value to your company without needing to be publicly acknowledged for it.  If you reward in private, the rewards (or value) they offer back to the company will also be private.  Without you having know about it, the employee will drive value in the dark which is where real value is created.

Red envelopes are a method of private giving and I highly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to build private giving into your culture. Here’s how.

What the heck is a ‘red envelope’?

Red envelopes are just what they sound like, red envelopes. In Mandarin we call them “hong bao” which translates into “red bag”. In Chinese culture there are two major times when red envelopes are handed out: Spring Festival and weddings. In this post I focus on the Spring Festival, mostly because I’m not married (yet).

At the end of the year, companies pull out a lot of cash – which happens to be red too, stuffs them into red envelopes, and hands them out as a form of bonus for a job well done and/or appreciation for all their hard work for the year.

Traditionally, the rule of thumb is the ’13th month rule’. Which translates to each employee receiving an extra months wage at Spring Festival. This works from a budgeting/planning perspective, but doesn’t leverage the entire effectiveness / meaning of the red envelope.

Chinese companies on the other hand, view red envelopes a lot differently. It’s not only a way to pay less income tax but also lift up the spirit of the entire company. Throughout the year, it’s anticipation of the unknown that drives employees to work harder and longer for a big hong bao  (大红包).

Historically red envelopes are filled with cash, but in tight times like this year, companies get creative in their giving. One of my favorites were condoms and tree seedlings.

Ideas driving incentives behind red envelopes

Red envelopes offer employers the opportunity to appreciate their employees for a year well done. You can pull your relationship (关系) closer and make them more committed to you and the vision.

As an employer, it’s not our responsibility to make employees happy. Ultimately it’s up to each person to make that happen for him/herself. We do however, play a significant role in whether or not our employees feel appreciated. This is a critical distinction in the importance of hong baos.

Think about it, how often do we genuinely thank our employees for all the hard work they do on our behalf? People bleed to be acknowledged and appreciated and red envelopes are an incredible opportunity to do just that. Even if your company is not profitable or having an off year, it’s the thought that counts. Big or small the red envelope is painting a picture for a better future and one that makes them happy.

You might be thinking: physical gifts can accomplish the same thing. On the surface they absolutely can. Gifts allow employees to feel appreciated, but runs counter to the idea that private giving is better than public giving. Red envelopes (other than the thickness of course) don’t allow anybody else to know how much money is inside. They are hidden from view and can be put in employees, friends, or family members’ pockets. Much easier than carrying a ribbon wrapped red box out the front door of the office.

Lastly, since the entire country goes home for Spring Festival, handing out red envelopes right before puts a great taste in their mouths to talk with their family about. It builds positive word-of-mouth for the company amongst family members, which is critical to their support system and leads to a lower turnover rate in the long-term.

How our company distributed them and why.

Distribution, both the actual delivery and total amount of red envelopes is crucial to maximizing effectiveness. You have to think through each individual person, their job responsibilities, key metrics that define their role, and how they will feel compared to others. It’s important to spend time and get it all right. Employees sure pay attention.

Obviously it would destroy the point of my whole theory of ‘giving in privacy’ if I published what we gave on my blog. That being said we handed out nothing substantial except to a few key employees and used it was more a token of appreciation for the people that have committed their lives to our cause.

Red envelopes were broken down into two handouts: company and manager.



The company (or General Manager) portion of the annual red envelope was meant to be appreciation on behalf of the company. We moved at a break neck pace this year and wanted to acknowledge that.  This is not to be confused with something we should or have to hand out, it’s purely out of thanks for the employee.

In our case,  this portion was significantly larger than the managers (see below).


I invited each employee into my office one-on-one to give them a personalized thank you on behalf of the company. This isn’t a time for a full on performance review, but to acknowledge what they had done throughout the year, ram home our company vision for a better future, and encourage them to truly enjoy the time with their families.

At the end, I’d open a drawer of my desk, pull out the red envelope, hand it over, and wish them a happy Spring Festival. Jaws dropped and some even teared up. It was completely unexpected (good job team!) and they had no idea it was coming. Mission accomplished.



We had three new managers this year and the goal was to improve their relationships with all the people under them, build loyalty, and respect for the upcoming year. Ideally employees felt these were handed on independent of the company and was the managers giving out of their own kindness of their heart.

Since it was meant to be felt as an in-kind give, the total amount were proportionally smaller than the company’s.


We had them write down a unique message for each person and hand them out on their own time. Made it more personal that way. I had teams at each location on the last Friday before Spring Festival have a meal together and assume they handed them out at this time. Didn’t get into the weeds of their distribution but know they handled it well.


Nobody in the company knew red envelopes were coming until the last three days before Spring festival. Everyone thought, “oh well, foreign invested companies don’t get it”. They were wrong.

The entire staff went into the Spring Festival ecstatic and ready to talk about the meaningful work they are doing at HONT. We accomplished our goal but on a completely different level, it felt amazing from an employers perspective to acknowledge all the hard work they put in for us all year.

We all know size (of red envelope) matters on some level, but it’s not the most important thing. The most important aspect of giving, is the act of doing it. We could have publicly announced red envelopes at our company retreat and made a big brouhaha about it but the fact we did it in private goes a long way.

BONUS: WeChat + red envelopes

To keep the buzz going into the Spring Festival while they are home with their families, we used WeChat to pull the team together once again. You hop over to my in-depth introduction of WeChat to learn more about the app itself.

Spring Festival eve, I decided to make giving a game and refocus everybody back on HONT on the most important night of the year.

How it worked, is you set a total amount you want to give, say 100 RMB, and then people click to open and see how much they win. See below for step-by-step instructions.


red envelope hong bao

Choose total people and total amount you want to send.

red envelope hong bao

Sends ‘envelope’ into group channel

red envelope hong bao

As people click, app populates who received how much.

It’s a way for people to get excited about the New Year and to play along – generating buzz around the culture of giving. Our WeChat channels were all dead until I opened up the firehose of red envelopes and everybody started to get involved. People were giving, playing, and having a blast. This runs counter to the idea of private giving but serves more as a function of creating a giving culture, and for 热闹 or activity as they say in Chinese.

What you should do about it.

Red envelope giving is a practice deeply embedded in Chinese culture. My hope is this can serve as a guide for you and your company when you’re considering handing them out, it’s a huge opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the people that work for you.  And more importantly, to build in the culture of giving.

Shoot, who says this should wait until the end of the year. Think of somebody you want to appreciate and go do it now.

I’d love to know about your own experiences handing out red envelopes.

Pay Your Bills Before Chinese New Year

Charlie CampbellHRLeave a Comment


Wheeless Car for Chinese New Year


Personal Story on Workers Collecting Before Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is right around the corner and what most people don’t understand, is the scramble for money that comes along with it. Just last week I was rushed out of our nursery when two, large Chinese men came to collect money (that we don’t owe btw).

At year end, companies are expected throw annual parties, hand out red envelopes to employees, and  most stressful of all, close out any payables accumulated throughout the year. It’s a domino effect of companies pushing out payments as long as possible, up until the last minute, which is the last day just before Chinese New Year starts. This puts an unbelievable amount of strain on the financial system and companies operating in it.

As a result, workers often times go on strike for owed wages and in serious cases, threaten companies with their own life to move the needle. In our case, farmers are hanging out in our office and barricading the doors. No fun.

The goal of this post is for you to better understand stresses that plague Chinese business owners at years end through our own story.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year (“CNY”) falls between February 7th – 13th in 2016. It represents the end of the Lunar calendar and most important holiday in Chinese culture. Everything, from factories to restaurants close their doors to bring in the New Year with their families.  Chinese companies hold annual company parties, hand out red envelopes (another form of bonus), and gifts to employees for a job well done (China Highlights wrote a nice summary here). However, Chinese New Year isn’t all celebration, largely due to payments.

Payment terms in China

Payment terms in China, as a relation based society, can vary from full payment pre-shipment (new relationships) to multiple years (good relationships). Savii businesses delay payment(s) for as long as possible with one hard deadline: the day before Chinese New Year. It’s acceptable to push off payments until then, but bills need to be cleared at the end of the year.

Government contracts are also structured this way – payments are closed out before Chinese New Year. Chinese managers at years end run all over the country, giving gifts, and trying to collect all of their receivables. Since most of the money in the country waterfalls down from the government, it sure is a busy time of year and a stressful one at that.

Payment hiccup at higher levels trickle down from upper management to the people actually doing the work: farmers/laborers and where it gets not-so-interesting.

Personal story

Recently (January 28th, 2016), I showed up to our Shandong office in the afternoon around 3:00pm to meet with our production manager and supervisor. After 30 minutes with the supervisor, our Production Manager and I decided to walk to the nursery to put my eyes on the trees.

Everything proceeded as normal until 4:00pm, when our driver whipped into the nursery and said “we need to go”. Apparently between the time I showed up to the office at 3:00pm and 4:00pm, two large Chinese guys showed up to push us for money. Our driver was sitting in his car at the entrance to our office and overheard them say “the American should be in the office”. News traveled fast.

My first reaction was to go sit down with them face to face – hear them out, explain the situation, and handle it like adults. You can solve almost any problem by listening. However at the advice of all our employees, particularly ones that have been through this before, they encouraged me to head back to the hotel for the night and not get caught up in the mess.

Background on why workers showed up

For context, I’ll explain why these guys showed up in the first place (for the record, we don’t owe ANY money).

Our partner, let’s call them Party A, is contractually obligated to install/invest in our nursery infrastructure in full, and we will repay them in 5 years either through sales or a lump sum. Party B is the contractor they used to install the infrastructure and finished construction June 2016.

Payment terms were set up as such that Party A will pay Party B 50% at the end of the year (February 2016) and the remaining 50% at the end of the second year (February 2017). All is good, until February 2016 and Party A has not paid Party B, which lead to workers showing up at our doorstep. Why us you might ask?

You’d think Party B would go directly to Party A to collect, but it’s more complicated than that. Party A and Party B have a long working relationship and Party B doesn’t want to hurt their ‘connection’ (we call this 关系 in Mandarin).

Instead, they decide to disrupt our operations (office environment, blog roads in/out of our nursery etc) and force us to do one of two things:

  1. Go back to our partner, Party A, and push them to make payment. Under this scenario, Party B doesn’t look bad and upholds their relationship.
  2. Since our operations are disrupted, we bite the bullet and pay back Party B the 50% far ahead of schedule, outside of contract.

We could always take the legal route but as you know, that’s a long and ardous process that won’t solve our problem in the short-term. While we’re working through the options above, workers will continue loitering at our office and possibly take action against our assets (no bueno).

I need to rely on some relational judo to work through this and will update the post as soon as we bring it to resolution.

What happens if they caught up with me in the nursery?

Don’t worry, they weren’t going to beat me up. People who have experienced this before told me they would have cornered me, held my legs, not let me get in the car, lay down in front/behind the car — basically done anything and everything to bother me enough to pay bills.

If I retaliate and get physical, they will submit a claim and I would be forced to dish money out for injury. Apparently even if I decided to walk back to my hotel, they would follow me or prevent me from doing so. Honestly I don’t understand their tactic – our assets are in the field and strapping me down doesn’t free me up to actually solve their problem.

To avoid this, our employees encouraged me to go back to the hotel immediately and focus on the problem at large. I couldn’t tell if they were joking or not, but they encouraged me to:

  • Check-in to hotel under a pseudo name
  • Change my cell phone number
  • Take the first train back to Hangzhou

Obviously I did none of the above but sheds light on how they address / think about the problem.  Deflect as much as possible and work through it relationally with our partner. We’re actively working through solutions now and I’m happy I got out untouched this time around. Not going back to the nursery anytime soon, however.

How often does this happen?

Talking with our employees, this is very common at the end of the year, especially in Northern China. China gets incredibly cold from November – March and there is not a lot of work for farmers. With a lot of time on their hands, they can afford to loiter / beg for payments.

Below are just some examples given to me by our employees and a link to a few images ( ‘swipe’ pictures left-right).

  1. Workers standing on roofs/equipment, threatening to jump if they aren’t paid.
  2. Locking managers inside of offices until they do something about it (or parking cars in front of an elevator)
  3. Breaking windows of cars and factories in rebellion
  4. Disrupting operations and refusing to work after Chinese New Year

When people are backed up against a wall, they resort to desperate measures. I couldn’t imagine being a laborer and not being paid for 3-6 months. Without any other means, I might do the same thing. I’ll make sure to fill in any other stories as I hear about them throughout the Chinese New Year.

Our company only has experienced the tip of the iceberg and can only hope nothing serious happens. Perhaps this is a growing pain or a deeper, systemize wide problem that the government is going to need to address.

Moral of the story: pay your bills before Chinese New Year.


If you want to join the conversation and build a bridge understanding between the two power houses of our time, sign up for my newsletter (upper right) and reach out at anytime.


Manage Multi Location Company(s) Through Culture

Charlie CampbellManagementLeave a Comment

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 6.27.31 PM

If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.”

If you manage or have managed a foreign-invested company in China like I do, you know how challenging it is to maintain the quality and integrity of the organization across multiple locations, from management to the people actually doing the work.

This is not uniquely a Chinese problem, it exists everywhere including the United States. It is however, exaggerated by trying to impose your business culture on another.

Living and breathing this reality over the past two years has lead me to the conclusion that culture is the key to maintain quality and integrity of your organization across multiple locations. 

Managing multiple locations in any organization is difficult. Spread out operations can bring geographic advantages, while at the same time sacrifice the quality of the organization, particularly in China, which hurts your brand. I have learned this the hard way.

HONT (“Haining Oregon Nursery Technologies”) grew fast, both in terms physical locations and people.
  • 2014
    • 50 acre nursery from scratch in Haining, China
    • ~15 admin + managers + supervisors, 40-150 workers
  • 2015
    • 50 acre nursery in Jinan, China (800 miles away)
    • A corporate headquarters in Hangzhou
    • 30 admin + managers + supervisors, 80 – 250 workers
  • 2016
    • 170 acre nursery in Shuyang, China (in process)
    • Build out of nurseries for customers (in process)
This presented a problem for a our growing company: how do we maintain quality and integrity of the original team while we spread out geographically? 

Issues growing geographically

I failed in the beginning. I expected to be able to hand a manager a piece of paper with well-written job descriptions (mission, deliverables, and key attributes), a hand book on on how to execute, well-defined budgets, and then they would flourish and I could go home! Boy was I wrong.

Issues didn’t surface right away but crept up on us over time. To name a few:
  • Kill the messenger syndrome. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, which makes identifying deeper problems harder.
  • Quality of the product went down.  Quality products start with quality people.
  • Employee morale & drive fell. People (especially new hires) didn’t feel the sense of working for foreign-invested company.
  • Labor efficiency tanked. Follows point above, managers didn’t drive things and waterfalled down to laborers.
  • Slow decision making. Classic ‘let the boss make the decision’ slows operations down and costs money in the long-term.

None of these jump out at you right away but showed up over time. It’s easy to think managing another location will be easy, but it’s not. And for a little while, we paid the consequences.

There are many reasons why these issues came up, but in HONT’s case, our saving grace was refocusing everybody on our culture.

Define your culture

I remember like it was yesterday: our core team sat in the HONT Museum (a showroom for trees) and white boarded out the lifeblood of who we are, why we do it, and the attitude we expect for everyone who shows up for work. Our culture was no so much born, but defined.

Immediately, all employees were presented with our culture deck and new hires to this day are indoctrinated into it and walk out a different person. The results have been nothing short of spectacular.

Fuel to the fire

We then implemented a few habits below (in no particular order) that have worked magic at turning the mentality / spirt of the organization around.
  • Weekly team meetings across departments and locations.
  • Weekly memo to entire staff identifying small wins
  • Professionalism work shops
  • Identify managers who ‘get it’, aka breathe your company culture
  • Never stop being a conduit for the culture, 24 hours a day.
Within three months, HONT was different company and we had returned to the feeling of a founding few at each location and I’m looking forward to continuing to do so into the future.

Your turn.

Building cultural discipline across multiple locations takes a lot of effort, care, and attention. It’s not easy to do and requires 100% buy-in on behalf of the people executing it.

I encourage you to try this in your own companies, in China or not, and see what happens. Your life will be a lot easier and your company will thrive.

Leave comments below about your experiences managing multiple locations and good/bad solutions you’ve tried!