Sierra Leone is located in West Africa, bordered to the northeast by Guinea and to the Southeast by Liberia. The Atlantic Ocean is its western border, meaning that Sierra Leone is a country dependent on international trade thanks to its ports. Mining is one of its primary sources of income, particularly diamonds, titanium, and gold.
There are sixteen ethnic groups in the country, but the two most influential groups are the Mende in the southeast and the Temne in the north. It is a primarily Muslin country, but with Christian influence as well.
While the sixteen ethnic groups in Sierra Leone speak their own unique languages, English is the most commonly spoken language in the country. This makes it much easier for you to do business, as you will not need to learn another language to communicate effectively.
That being said, it’s a good idea to learn a few simple phrases in the local languages to use when visiting the country. The dialects will change depending on what part of the country you are visiting, but it’s usually fairly safe to learn a few words in either the Mende or Temne languages.
When meeting someone for the first time, a handshake is the most common greeting. Both men and women will shake hands with members of both sexes. A firm handshake is ALWAYS the best form of greeting.
Business cards are to be exchanged upon introduction as a gesture of goodwill. It’s best to look at the card for a few moments before putting it away. Make sure to put the card away in a suit jacket pocket or shirt breast pocket where it will not be ruined. It’s a way to show respect for the other person’s business card.
Seeing as the language most commonly spoken in business circles is English, you should have no trouble communicating with your hosts. Most locals will speak clearly and be direct, but it’s in your best interest to be polite and AVOID offering anything that could be perceived as insult. Sierra Leoneans are fairly sensitive about their country and culture, so make sure any comments you make are positive.
For a business meeting, it’s common to wear a lightweight business suit. A three-piece may be too hot for the weather during most of the year, so it’s better to stick with light, breathable fabrics.
Once you have been introduced and the meeting with your hosts begins, wait until one of them takes off their suit jacket before you do so. It’s the best way to avoid anything that could be construed as lack of respect or too much informality.
Business Meetings and Punctuality
ALWAYS be punctual to your business meetings in Sierra Leone.
It’s best to set up meetings and appointments well in advance. You will need to have all of your materials prepared BEFORE you attend the meeting, as it is perceived as impolite to ask your hosts for anything. Business hours in Sierra Leone are between 8 and 12 AM, and again from 2 to 5 PM.
Although it can be difficult starting a new business venture anywhere, as long as you follow the tips provided above, your trip should prove fruitful.