I WAS recently on a business trip to San Diego and stopped off in Chicago on the way, since there was no direct flight from Dublin. I planned it so I would stay a few days, as a buffer against jet lag and because it’s a really wonderful city.
Now, I didn’t have many contacts there when I landed, but I made sure I had several when I left. So how do you turn a layover in a foreign city into a networking bonanza? All it takes is some quick strategising.
I’ve been in the situation of spending whole days in a hotel lobby abroad, working away on my laptop, because I didn’t have any meetings that day.
Frankly, I could have done the same at home, so I quickly changed tack. And now there was a whole new city of opportunity waiting for me out there. In such a situation you might try cold-emailing networks and sundry organisations, but people are busy and an email from a total stranger will probably remain unanswered.
I tried that for this Chicago stopover, it didn’t really work out, so I turned to Eventbrite, the website and app that lists events all over the world.
I looked up business events in Chicago and registered for as many as I could. All in all, I must have gone to five or six events, most of them free.
Networking in a foreign land isn’t any different from networking at home. I love it, it’s been great for my business and I’ve been doing it for years.
But I’m still nervous when I walk into a room full of strangers. Don’t try to ward off the embarrassment by pretending to be busy on your phone. On the contrary, embrace the nerves, and look nervous: a good soul is sure to walk up to you and welcome you.
Networking starts long before you walk into that room, though. Have a game plan.
If you have no specific idea of how others can help you, you’re making it difficult for them — you’re putting the onus on them to find out what you need. And then of course you want to build relationships and be helpful — think of what you can offer.
My first ask was that I’d love to meet women’s business groups. I was looking to expand my network in Chicago, and could they help me with that?
And of course I also made sure I had specific things to give. Was anybody interested in entering the European market? Would they like to know about my experience as an exporter, could I point them to resources?
It so happens that one person at the first event I attended wanted to move to Spain. That same evening I went to an exporting event, and met somebody who would be a good contact for them. I had only been in Chicago 24 hours, but I was able to link up people there who hadn’t known about each other.
So next time you’re looking to a lonely evening in your hotel room watching TV, log on to Eventbrite and put the “business” back into “business trip”.
Susan Hayes Culleton is The Positive Economist, MD of international financial training company Hayes Culleton. Her new business podcast is now out, tweet her at @SusanHayes_ for the link.