By Kim Waddoup
I have been networking for so long that I can’t really remember when I started! I also cannot recollect how I found out what to do! I guess that I am one of the lucky ones to whom networking comes naturally!
Before you choose which event to spend your valuable time on, look and see what the focus of the event is. Is it really business networking? Am I going to spend my money/my company’s money and get something more than a hangover in return? ‘Business networking’ is a well-abused catch phrase. Most business clubs organise networking for their members, but it is often the same crowd which may be good, in that it is an opportunity for you to consolidate contacts. A great deal depends on your job/your position and what your aims are.
Many organisations offer business networking in Moscow, and it is quite easy to see if the event is going to be primarily social or business. Maybe social networking is what you need to establish more friends in town? If so, you will generally see that the fairer sex outnumbers the male population by two or even three to one! It will probably be fun, forget your business aims and just gather telephone numbers!
There is a vast choice of events now in Moscow and you can find them on Facebook or Meet-Up. If there is no entrance charge, you just buy your own drinks and food. However, if it is commercial, with an entrance fee, ask if they are legitimate and can provide you with a tax receipt. Technically, you are breaking the law if you just pay cash and receive no receipt!
Business networking is generally for 2 purposes. The first is to meet, to get to know and cultivate people/contacts who can be potential business partners or generally useful for your business, and the second is to make contact with people who, if impressed, may be able to offer a better employment position.
There are many levels of Networking, from basic (with horrible stick-on badges) to highly sophisticated utilising aps and other wizardry to enable you to meet with people that you have not been able to contact before.
So, if you have never been to a business networking event before, how do you prepare? Some organisations have online booking procedures that allow you to see who is coming, however the majority utilise Facebook and then have an actual turn-out rate of under 30%, so any research you may have done is mostly useless. Probably the two most important tips to remember are business cards and bad breath! It is amazing how many people go to networking events and then say, “Sorry but I forgot to bring my business cards!” How can you make contact if you forget the singularly most important tool that you have! OK, technology allows our phones to mate in the most surreptitious ways, but normally as one is meeting, it is the formal exchange of cards that starts the conversation. I don’t think that I have to say much about bad breath, but you are not going to be speaking to people for very long if you suffer from this!
Some countries have a great deal of etiquette around business cards and their presentation, especially in Asia. In Moscow it is generally polite to offer either an English or a Russian card or a double sides card. Whilst many of the people you are meeting speak English, it shows respect and politeness to your hosts if your details are also in Russian. There does not appear to be any special way to pass over the cards, in fact this is often quite a juggling feat with a glass also in hand! Remember to also respect the card that you have received as it indicates your sincerity. Best to have a double-sided card holder, one side for your cards and one for cards received.
Generally, at a networking event, conference etc., people are open to talking without formal introductions, after all, that’s why most are there! When I arrive I will generally tour the room to see who might be of interest. Whilst I will acknowledge friends and previous acquaintances I generally prefer to look for new people, as my aim is to extend my contact radius. Don’t make the mistake of walking in, meeting old friends and then not meeting anybody new!
If there are standing tables, then grab a table. As people take food you will be surprised how popular you become when you have space at your table. However always introduce yourself and get their cards before the feast begins. As the evening progresses and people relax with the help of alcohol, it is generally easier to approach and enter into conversation. If you approach a small group, don’t just barge in, rather wait for them to acknowledge you and introduce you to others.
Generally speaking, business networking does not finish late, so there is often an opportunity to join some groups as they move on to other establishments, further cementing the contacts that you have made. However, meeting people face to face at a networking event is only a small part of the procedure. All your hard work will come to nothing if you do not make follow-ups. Some of the contacts made will require individual emails reminding them of your promise to supply them with further details, some may be expecting your CV. For other more general contacts a short email making further contact and describing what you do is sufficient. Always aim to achieve this within 24 hours for maximum effect.
I personally find LinkedIn* the best way to log new contacts and to be able to find some months later. If you are like me with an extensive list of contacts and approaching the limits, you can only make contact through LinkedIn by entering their email address. It’s on their card so now you can accomplish this!
Facebook is rather special in Russia with many foreigners being quite surprised when business contacts request to become a ‘friend’ and many, Europeans especially, keep Facebook only for friends and family and are not keen to add business contacts there, especially people that you only met the evening before!
It is also important to evaluate the event. Did I get my money’s worth and favourable new contacts? Did I feel that I received value for money with the venue and the services provided? How was the quality of the visitors, as sometimes a price level ensures a higher quality. If you did, you will go again?’ if you did not then you will have to keep looking for suitable events!
About the Author: in addition to being the Publisher of Moscow expat Life, Kim has been an ardent networker in Moscow for most of his 20+ years. Seeing many of the smaller business clubs being unable to hold their own events, he created the Moscow Business Networking Club to provide executives in Moscow with high quality and effective business networking events.
* at the time of going to press, LinkedIn is currently unavailable in Russia