In Asia, relationships are at the heart of most business deals. But relationships are built over time, and entering a new circle can be challenging. Five months after moving from Canada to Vietnam, I’m really happy with the connections I’ve made, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way.
Whether you are being relocated, opening a new business or exploring possibilities, use LinkedIn and Facebook to identify individuals who work in your industry and contact them. If you approach them properly, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to book a meeting or get answers to your questions.
A friend of mine booked a week in Ho Chi Minh City to explore. His company is planning to open a new office here. He used LinkedIn and invited expats for coffee to exchange about their experiences. 75% of them responded, and 50% agreed to meet. By experience, you will be more successful if you find a way to create value for the other person than if you simply ask for a favour.
Use Facebook to identify interest-based groups and events where you can meet relevant people. Depending on your goals, you may consider consular events, trade associations, conferences, alumni general networking and sports associations.
Whether you are a natural networker or not, never give up on networking events. After searching for the right networking groups for me, I committed to attend as many business and social networking events as possible. Some of them felt like a waste of time, but most were successful in terms of building my network. Knowing people helped me feel more comfortable in my new environment. But it’s not always easy.
It took Jessica Hilston, an entrepreneur from Australia, over three months before she enjoyed living in Ho Chi Minh City. “I went to a first networking event and didn’t know how to approach people. So I went straight to the bar,” she admitted. But she met one person who invited her to another event and introduced her to a number of people, allowing her to build a solid network. She later founded Women of Vietnam, a social networking group for women, which allowed me to meet a lot of my current friends. “If you don’t find what you are looking for, create it!” she added.
You will find some useful networking tips in this article.
As Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends & Influence People, “you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” When you meet someone, memorize their name and ask open-ended questions.
In Asia, hierarchy is important. Names and titles matter. When you receive a business card, use both hands and read it carefully before putting it away in a suitable place to show respect to the other person, even though it’s not as formal and strict in all Asian countries. “Having a business card holder is a must,” said Manouchka Elefant, Executive Search at Heidrick & Struggles in Singapore. “If at a dinner, people can arrange the cards around their plate to identify the people around them.”
The way people dress is influenced by the industry they work in, the weather, and the venue. Overall, work attire is more formal in North Asia than in South East Asia. “I have learned to listen to people speak before judging their professionalism. Many casually dressed individuals know their industry well,” said Pamela Haake, PR Manager at the Landmark and leader of Network Girls.
No matter how others dress, you should pay attention to your attire, especially if you are looking for a job or potential customers. You may have heard the saying “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. The reason for that is the halo effect, a bias in which our overall impression of a person colors our judgment of that person’s character. If you look professional, you will look more competent. If you wear unique accessories and colorful clothes, you will look more creative. You get the idea.
Drinking is an important relationship-building activity in many cultures. In China, Korea and Japan, trust building may happen at two or three rounds of drinking. But self control is a must. If you show up to an event with an empty stomach, you may feel tipsy after a few drinks only.
At networking events, having a drink in hand can be a good tool. “With or without alcohol, it’s something to hold if you’re nervous. It can be an excuse to meet someone in line to order a drink. You can even offer to get someone a drink, or ask what they are drinking if not clear. It can be an easy ice breaker,” said Pamela Haake.
Don’t underestimate the power of your network. “More important than experience and track record is having the right network, from seeking a job to getting a deal done,” said Manouchka Elefant. Some opportunities are only a phone call away. But once you have made connections, make sure to maintain the relationships. Don’t just reach out when you need something. Show that you are available, and try to find a way to help them if you can. And be specific about what you can do to help them rather than saying that you are available if they need you.
Many thanks to Pamela Haake, Manouchka Elefant and Jessica Hilston for their contribution.
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