Go Global. Wisely.

Networks: a key lever for international success

As entrepreneurs we know and experience the benefits of networking on a daily business. Businesses are all about networking, building relationships, and acting on them. How important are networks for your international development? 

It takes a lot of time and motivation to build a successful business internationally. Therefore, you can use the network of partners, professional acquaintances,  distributors, friends and colleagues to grow and implement in a new country. Surrounded by people who share similar motivations and ambitions, you are more likely to move forward as a group. These are not the only benefits of networks. In this article you will find how networking is useful and how to practice it efficiently.

Does networks increase a company’s performance internationally?

Networking 

According to investopedia networking is “the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting.”

For professionals, networking opportunities are among others trade fairs, seminars and conferences designed to attract a large crowd of like-minded people. Networking helps professionals keep up with current events in the field and form relationships that have the potential to increase the prospects for future business. Needless to say, it also provides an opportunity to help others find a job, socialize, and catch up with the news. 

Advantages of professional networks during international development

Building a network is essential when expanding internationally because it allows you to access a new market straightforwardly. Having an effective network is a real advantage when entering a new market. Here is a non-exhaustive list of five reasons why you should invest in your network :

Sharing knowledge 

Networking give you opportunities to share your knowledge. Learn best practices, your colleagues’ business techniques, and keep up with the latest industry trends. A broad network means wide access to new and valuable information. This gives you an opportunity to avoid some of the pitfalls they encountered. You can also obtain information on the market in general, i.e., its issues, its players and the stakeholders. If you want to go international, the information provided by the right network circles is very important. Indeed, knowing one’s target market is essential for success. In countries with a different culture from the company’s country of origin, some customs and rules coul be difficult to understand without benefits from others who already have experienced development in these countries. Network allows you to discuss with specialists about customers’ expectations in your targeted country. Therefore to be well prepared to enter a new market.

Solutions to Business Problems

If you have a business problem going international, networking gives you valuable advice and potential solutions to help you move forward by gaining access to other people who have had similar problems in the past. You can also find best practice guides promoted by your business network. This helps streamline the way you work. 

Opportunities

An efficient network leads to opportunities. What you don’t know is when and how they occur. Whether it’s a referral, an offer of a partner, a request for a service or product, it’s important to be ready to seize it as soon as an opportunity arises. Give referrals to members of your network and do not hesitate to ask your network for referrals especially when you start entering a new geographic territory. 

Link 

Strong network doesn’t only strengthen your relationship. Networking is about sharing, giving and sometimes receiving. It’s about building trust and helping each other reach their goals. If someone in your network matches the company you met at the event, don’t hesitate to share that contact information. Contacting your contacts on a regular basis and finding opportunities to assist them can help strengthen your relationship. In this way, we sow the seeds of mutual support when we need help to reach our goals.

Improve your reputation and your company’s

Visibility and attention is one of the great benefits of networking. By regularly attending professional and social events, you will be recognized, you will be known and your company’s scope will be identified. It helps build your and your company’s reputation as a knowledgeable, trustworthy and supportive person by providing useful information and advice to those who need it. And because you are the one who comes to mind when you need what you offer, you are more likely to get leads and business opportunities.

Impact of networks on performance  

How can we be sure of the importance of networks? What is the return on investment in all the time and activities we perform when growing internationally? Answering these questions is quite difficult. Once again, we have decided to dig deeper and find some data to prove the need of this investment. The impact of  networks on international performance and competitiveness of companies have been measured by a study done by Yoon, Sung and Ryu in 2019. The study has included more than 350 Korean SMEs. To measure the international network integration the study looked at relationships with potential international partners, relationships with existing international partners, frequency of communication, coordination of activities to form strong and close relationships, level of trust etc And to measure international performance, they have studied the export sales performance, evolution of number of international markets, performance of International assets, the evolution  number of international branches.

Based on this research, it has been found that greater international network integration increases SMEs’ international performance thus the authors recommend that SMEs must establish and intensify international networks to improve their international performance. 

Networking efficiently 

With the increase in networking opportunities for companies that expand their activity internationally, it’s important to take the time to research your options before joining a particular networking group. Here are some of our tips to make your business networking more effective.

It’s tempting for business owners to join as many networks as possible, but it’s a better strategy to focus your time and effort on the group that best suits your needs and interests. Many network organizations hold special meet-and-greet events that allow potential new members to attend meetings before becoming members. 

Once you have joined a networking group in a new country, it is important to be a contributing member. This implies that your physical presence will be sometimes required and you will have to travel to attend the events. People who use networks try to effectively provide something of value to other group members, rather than using associations to achieve their goals. Networking helps identify opportunities for collaboration, strategic joint ventures, partnerships and new areas to grow your business. Here are a few steps in order to build a network efficiently:

1. Define your goal

Unless you start with a clear agenda, it’s difficult to get what you need from your networking efforts. Before attending a meeting or event, set goals  for the experience. For example: create new contacts,  understand your competition, share knowledge to the community, or keep up with the latest trends in your industry internationally. This step will help you prioritize the actions and events to attend. Do not forget to align your goals with your  ressources (budget and time).

2. Prepare your pitch

Providing high value products and services to customers is not enough to convince. If you can’t express what you’re doing and what is your added value, you can’t expect to convey that information at a networking event. Whether your goal is to generate referrals or just build a network for the future, be ready to present what you are doing, who you are doing it for, and what is your competitive advantage. Take the time to create an elevator pitch that shows why you  should be chosen  over your competition. These steps should not be avoided and should be prepared very carefully. Careful attention should be paid to the local language. It can be useful to come with an interpreter to avoid any pitfalls and gain insights on how to work in a new international environment. 

3. Attend business networking events

Once you have identified your goal and your pitch is ready, the next step to successful networking is knowing where to connect. Almost any activity or event can serve as a networking opportunity, but when addressing a new geographic market, business owners and professionals can benefit from attending local business events. 

It is worthwhile to attend meetings of professional associations and academic societies related to your area of expertise.

4. Find a reason to follow up

After establishing a connection, there is still a lot of effort to make. You also need to take steps to maintain the relationship. Even if you are not currently looking for help or partnership,  contact your contacts several times a year to follow up. You can forward related articles, invite them to seminars and meetings.

5. Ask for what you want

When going global, one may face problems or need expert advice or simply need to receive help from a peer. For example, it is possible to face legal problems with your international suppliers or distributors. Having a network in the country concerned can be useful to untangle the situation. For a successful networking effort, you must be bold enough to ask for help. Before you go to the next meeting or seminar, make sure you can articulate what you are looking for. Then, tell the truth when someone asks how they can help you.

It seems complex, time consuming  and a lot of hard work. Don’t despair, further on we have prepared for you a list of tools to boost your networking skills. 

Your best networking tools 

Business community/ Network organization

Business owners and entrepreneurs often join industry organizations to keep informed and get new contacts. Networking can help you identify opportunities for collaboration, strategic joint ventures, partnerships, and new areas to expand your business. For example, a German cosmetics company which operates or is looking for exporting in Canada could join the Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC). The cosmetics company will be able to find distributors to enter the country more easily and be aware of the latest regulations or trends in the country as explained in the testimony below from a member of the organization. The events of this organization can be also a great platform to introduce new innovative products or present a new product on the market. 

Testimony of Canadian Society of Cosmetics Chemists about the advantages of being part of a networks organisation
Source : Canadian Society of Cosmetics Chemists (SCC)

Professional networks online

Professional networks platforms like LinkedIn provide an online place where people can connect with other professionals, join groups, blog, and share information. And, of course, they provide a place for potential employers to post resumes that they can see to look for a job or identify candidates for a job. 

The covid-19 crisis has led many professionals to network only online, not directly. Business-to-business (B2B) customer pipelines can be developed almost entirely using social networking sites. Online networking forums allow professionals to show their knowledge and connect with like-minded people.  

LinkedIn is the largest professional network, but there are many others. Some correspond to a specific subset of people, such as: women in business, international business, digital marketing etc Meetup encourages  members to meet outside the company, either directly or virtually through online video conferences.

Professional exhibition/events

Trade shows and events are very effective ways to network and gather quality information about your industry or areas necessary for the proper functioning of your business (marketing, communication, accounting, etc.). It is very interesting for a company wishing to expand internationally to participate in these types of events to get an overview of what is being done and to establish initial contacts that support the establishment in a new country.

Events dedicated to your sector

No matter what business your company is in, there is always new knowledge and skills to be gained to improve performance. Take advantage of networking events with one or more speakers on topics directly related to your function or department. These events can be found by following or subscribing to industry news and discipline experts. One of the benefits of these events is that the information obtained is guaranteed to be related to your industry. It may be new software that can help you improve your operations, or new market trends internationally. For example, if you are a business specialized in medical devices, you must attend to MEDICA, the largest event for the medical sector which takes place in Germany and where companies from more than 50 countries attend to.

Roundtable Discussions

Roundtables are useful for those who want to expand their knowledge and grow their network by sharing it with like-minded people. These events allow for open forums and discussions that lead primarily to creative ideas and new directions. Usually, the participants attend to roundtables in person so they are organised in small groups. Organizers can also hand select who to invite to ensure that the group has similar career goals and interests.  If you’re stuck with a project in a new country, these events are great for finding solutions and making new connections in the meantime. If you have a business involved in sustainable packaging and you are working on an innovative project in the field, you would be interested to participate at an international round table such as and debate with experts around the world about your innovation or innovations in your field.  

Webinars and workshop

If you want to learn more about a specific topic you should atten to online webinars or workshops. Webinars are also a great opportunity to meet other attendees with the same topic interests. You can find the transcript of our webinar on how to understand your international customers. Attending a workshop is especially helpful if you are nervous about socializing. Of course, unless this is done, the focus is not on meeting new people. Also, for weekly workshops, meeting the same person each week makes networking easier.

Key takeaways

Networking has multiple benefits for a company which desires to go international. A strong network brings the latest information from your sectors and critical knowledge to succeed internationally and on the national market. Maintaining and growing your network also allows you to get help when you encounter a problem, to access partnership or joint venture opportunities, or to gain clients. Your international network has a direct impact on your international performance. Networking is also a way to gain a reputation as an individual and as a company. 

However, you can achieve these goals and benefit from the network only if the networking is well done. It is key to define your goal to enter professional networks, to prepare your pitch in order to sell your product or service and gain credibility, to participate in networking events, to strengthen relationships over the long term and not to hesitate to ask for help. There are different ways to access a network or networks through: business organizations, online tools such as LinkedIn and professional and industry events or trade shows.

How Prime Target can help you with your internationalization and identification of potential markets:

Prime Target offers to assist companies in the selection of markets to target. Our solution is delivered in the form of a top 5 to 20 countries with fully customized recommendations. Click here to find out more

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