Mobility and travel opportunities create a realistic dream of moving into another location. For some it means another state within the same country, others plan their new life on another continent. These movements can be independent of work between two jobs, or the company sends their own employee as an expat into another geography.
In these situations, building a local network requires creating a strategic networking plan well in advance. To a lesser extent this is also important for those working in international positions with regular business trips to show interest in a local experience.
There is a major difference between improving an existing network and finding net new contacts. Staying at the same place is all about fine tuning towards building relevant relationships. Quoting Mark Frauenfelder: “To be successful you have to have quantity of quality”. In the case of a new environment, the search should be executed more broadly to learn from others about life in the new place.
1. Research the local market
Before travelling to the new destination, an in-depth analysis of the place is needed. Clearly easier to do within the same country, though moving to another state can also result in substantial differences. The first step is research the relevant places in the city and region, macro-economic factors, typical consumer touchpoints like favourite shopping areas and topical issues discussed in the local media.
When I moved from my Swiss domestic position to my international role within the same company, my new colleagues appreciated my interest in their geography after extensive preparation. To gain further competence in my biggest market Russia, I learnt to read the Cyrillic alphabet, studied relevant key places of interest and observed daily life in Moscow to engage with customers like a seasoned expat.
2. Connect with industry professionals in advance
Many foreigners are already located in most places. Going through your own network in LinkedIn helps to find out who is already working there or knows somebody. A referral from a first-tier connection in their network is a good start for a remote conversation. In most cases it will be easy to reach out and meet them later for a coffee. Usually expats are happy to share, especially to let others learn from own mistakes.
Moving within the same company or travelling for an extended series of business trips enables the creation of connections quite easily. Before I started my adventure Down Under, I connected with colleagues before leaving my company to gain valuable tips. Those returning from an overseas assignment can be helpful as well.
3. Find networking events before moving
The best way to create a local network, even in the social media era, remains attending face to face events. Some organisations exist in many countries such as Business Network International (BNI), or service clubs like Rotary with their regular meetings. Most attendees are usually well connected and believe in active networking. The new location might have suitable Meetup groups. These are organised face-to-face gatherings for nearly every topic and profession.
Various industry groups like local or foreign Business Chambers run their own small events or annual conferences. It is worth checking the schedule of event hotels so you don’t miss an important engagement opportunity. Attending a local Toastmasters group helps introverts in speaking in front of others.
When I came to Sydney, I attended regular professional networking events of InterNations, the world’s largest expat network. This has been an invaluable resource as all members have moved Down Under and found their way in a new company. Further, I attended German language Meetup groups to understand cultural implications. It is important to have the right mindset, to show interest in the new place rather than searching for the old life.
4. Switch social media to the new location
LinkedIn is the first choice to find relevant contacts in the new geography. Its own algorithm suggests prospects based on your location. LinkedIn allows this only once, even in separate profilesSet featured image per language (e.g. English and German). I recommend you don’t inform your network about the change proactively and turn off the “Sharing profile edits” switch in the profile privacy settings to avoid irritations towards the established contacts.
5. Print business cards with local address
Some might consider the business card as an old school instrument. Especially on networking events, talking to people requires exchanging contact details. It looks less professional to note names and email addresses on paper, especially when not fully established.
The alternative is a quick LinkedIn connection request on the spot. But without adding a personalised message, the hook of the topics covered at the first encounter is not documented resulting in a missed opportunity for follow up.
When I went to Sydney for my first long trip before eventually moving over, I ordered printed business cards with a professional title, local phone number and address along with a photo (which is uncommon in Australia but perceived as helpful). As my name sounds rather unusual, I added a QR code covering my LinkedIn profile URL for faster connection.
6. Meet and follow up with relevant contacts
Now as your network starts to grow, it is important to follow up for another exchange electronically or in person. Never think in the first place what you will gain. The key to proper networking with genuine interest in people means to help others. The time and coffee invested will surely pay back, even if it’s not obvious in the first place.
When I stayed in Sydney looking for my next professional role, I helped another person in the same situation with my newly established network. Due to this he landed a promising interview. Transferring Koka Sexton’s LinkedIn article (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/when-i-say-social-selling-what-mean-providing-value-koka-sexton) into this context: networking means providing value after careful active listening. The “givers gain” principle is the right attitude.
7. Attend a short course at an institute with a good reputation
A local education program is a terrific way to experience the local flavour of business conversations even beyond having your own job. This requires research about a country education framework and the potential institute; not every organisation offering management classes is perceived well in the market. A pure online offering won’t provide the benefits. New arrivals can talk to like-minded people from various industries in contrast to in-company trainings and learn about the market in a trustful environment beyond the program content. The facilitators can also add to that experience.
In my case, I have chosen the “Advanced Diploma of Leadership and Management” at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) because they are the only organisation to provide leadership skills assessments for the government and thus represent the gold standard in management. Treating the institute’s employees like my colleagues helped to gain trust and show genuine interest. AIM’s recently separated membership organisation, Institute of Managers and Leaders (IML), runs a series of events with further networking possibilities. Especially in Australia, most people are curious to hear stories from foreigners coming from far away.
8. Compile a Commented Contact List
It is possible to meet many interesting people in a short period of time. This can be a rewarding experience especially with a mindset of active listening and providing value as a next step. But how can you remember those fruitful discussions a month later? Not everybody is active on LinkedIn and social media. Commenting on the business cards you have collected won’t do the job. And let’s face it: sometimes we talk to people who we can’t help or don’t expect any further meetings with, but still take their card to be polite.
To keep track of my networking, I created a little spreadsheet highlighting the event, discussion, where the contact is stored (LinkedIn, Outlook, Facebook, business card) and add a comment on what they are looking for or how to potentially help in the future. Especially when moving to a new location, your local network growth can be exponential. Better to be organised to enable a further exchange.
Following those eight steps to establish a network in a new location requires enthusiasm and persistence to be successful. This effort will surely pay off as a rewarding experience, but also proves IML’s mantra “Networking is working”.
About the author: Gunnar Habitz helps small & mid-sized enterprises protect their data in the cloud as Sales Manager for CloudRecover in Australia and New Zealand. As Chartered Manager at the Institute of Managers and Leaders (IML), he mentors the next generation of leaders.
Gunnar Habitz has built networks in new locations on three separate occasions. Moving from Germany to Switzerland in 1999 when some of the tips above didn’t exist yet. Later he worked in an international position in Central & Eastern Europe leading sales teams in 29 countries from a new base in the Czech Republic. Most recently he moved with family to Sydney in Australia fully embracing the steps outlined above to build a strong network.