It’s been 7 years since I moved abroad to Hungary.
When I arrived, I knew I wanted to start my own business, but needed to build a strong business network for support. Building a business network requires hard work and persistence, and is an extra challenge when it’s not the country you grew up in. There are many cultural differences to navigate, especially if there’s a language barrier.
Many people consider me to be a social person who likes to get to know people and tries to be helpful where possible. So, when I started my business Luhhu, an automation agency, I knew I’d need to build a strong business network to support me on my entrepreneurial journey.
Now looking back on how I’ve been able to establish a business network abroad, here are the tips I recommend:
Join business networking communities
The internet is your friend when you first drop into a new city and need to find networking events. You can check out Meetup w internaional coverage and known for hosting great events.
Other angles worth pursuing are through your home country’s embassy or trade mission. Events they host are usually higher calibre and tend to attract local companies looking to conduct international business. It’s also a good idea to sign up to various newsletters to know about upcoming events without having to search online every time. These are great for being able to RSVP in time and preparation for the networking event.
Mix with locals as well as other expats
It’s a trap a lot of foreigners get into, both in their social and business life, by only talking to other expats. It’s the most comfortable option, especially if you both speak English, because you can bond over the fact that you’re new to the area. On the other hand, opening a business in a foreign country presents many challenges, so being able to speak with someone else who has gone through the same experience can be a huge advantage.
But the best part about mixing with locals is that they most likely have established their business in the market longer and have market and industry knowledge that is truly invaluable as a foreigner. Not to mention, they most likely have great contacts and potential customers for warm introductions.
Learn the local language - even just a little
Of course, one way to expand your network from just a group of expats is by learning the local language. It requires a lot of effort and dedication to learn a new language, but the benefits can be immense, especially as a business owner in a foreign country.
Firstly, it opens up events you wouldn’t have access to if you’re just relying on everyone speaking English. Plus, it’s a great way to show locals that you’re committed to building a life in your destination country, and that in itself opens new opportunities.
Whether you are planning to take an immersive course at a language school or simply take a few group classes, I recommend attending language exchange meetup events, so that you can not only connect with others and practice the language, but you can also practice giving your business pitch and network. Who knows, your next customer could be at the next language exchange event.
Network by exploring
There are many events for exploring, whether it’s hiking, cooking classes or even a dance class. By immersing into the culture, you will find yourself with many locals, which will give you the opportunity to network.
So take the initiative and plan something, be it a hike, a trip to the water or even a roam around an art gallery. These kind of events get everyone out of their element, and provides for a nice change from evening events. You can get to know people better, have longer to talk to people (but maybe don’t make it all about business!) and enjoy a shared experience.
Keep focus on your business goals
If you follow my other advice, within a couple of months you’ll no doubt have a wide and varied network of contacts, maybe even friends at this point. Chances are you’ll have something in the diary most nights of the week - and that’s great - but don’t lose focus on why you’re doing all this-- to grow your business.
Firstly, make sure you’re putting in the hours of work your business requires and not burning out. And, when you do go to events, go with a purpose other than just socialising. Search for the collaboration partner you need, present your business to an audience and get some feedback, even pull the speaker aside to ask those questions you want the answers to. Set goals and take steps to achieve them.
What are some challenges you experience with networking in a foreign country?