Hong Kong is an internationally renowned competitive arena for the professional networker. In fact the line between social and professional networking is so blurred in this city that your work and play lives can become fused. For some, this is a terrifying prospect but it can actually provide some very useful and productive channels for getting ahead.
Here are my top tips for successful networking:
There is a huge variety of networking groups available in Hong Kong and it’s important to find the right fit for you, not just in terms of the right industry and market but also the right personality. There is little point in attending a meeting of amateur photographers if you are looking to build partnerships with major banks, for example. Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and meetup.com, along with industry societies, chambers and associations will all be good places to start finding the right event for you.
Find your ideal setting
From the more aggressive breakfast seminars such as those held by the BNI (where card exchanges are treated like a competitive sport), to the more relaxed, after work and ‘over a glass of wine’ networking events such as those organized by the Australian Association or French Chamber of Commerce; there really is something for everyone. In my experience, the level of business done versus the enjoyment of the event is not necessarily correlated in any way so it needn’t be painful to be fruitful.
Networking events can be fun and are a great way to meet people but they ultimately serve the purpose of broadening your network and promoting your brand, be it personally or professionally. The early bird really does catch the worm so get there on time prepared to discuss work, the current economic climate or your industry and don’t forget to take lots of crisp business cards. Networking events are not just about small talk, they are about finding synergies, so focus on doing this when you meet people for the first time. If you meet people you like, you can continue the small talk over dinner – something I am sure you will do often.
Networking can be a numbers game (let’s say I meet ten people, at least one will prove useful for my business, right?) but you can also be strategic in who you approach and talk to. Do some research to find out the target market, take a look at the sponsors and speak to the organizers for recommended targets in your industry. As much as I love to discuss carbon trading, it’s unlikely to provide many co-branding opportunities for the wine company I work for, so ask for referrals and if you reach a dead end, don’t be afraid to politely excuse yourself and ask for directions to the restroom.
Like all professional situations, people like to spend time with people they like. This is especially true at networking events, so it is important to be yourself. You might hand out your business card but you are more than your job title so show people this.
Whilst you are there with your own goalsand prerogatives, don’t forget that you might come across opportunities you hadn’t expected:a job opportunity for you or someone you know, a part time role in gold trading (very lucrative!) or tips for the best local eateries. Finding this common ‘I’ll scratch yours and you scratch mine’ ground often leads to a rewarding, long term partnership.
Few people really follow up on leads from networking events so this is where your efforts can really pay off. Book that next meeting, send them an overview of your company, invite them to your next promotional event or add them on LinkedIn (but don’t assume this last point removes the need for actual email or telephone contact). You have to make it personal to get the best results.
Don’t be nervous to try new things, enter new realms, meet new people and build ‘brand you’! Like any skill, it can take practice but can also be very rewarding, especially in Hong Kong. Before you know it your picture will be gracing the back cover of BritCham magazine and a Hong Kong celebrity will be born!
By Lizzie Fraser, a keen networker and lover of people, Lizzie Fraser is Business Development Director at Cellarmaster Wines [email protected]