International Networking That Works

By Ennio Vita-Finzi

As a result of his Linkedin connections, a Toronto-based executive was offered an international export marketing position and his new boss encouraged him to network by joining Business Network International (BNI). While his application was being processed, he was sent to the UK to meet some of his new foreign colleagues in London and Birmingham. Out of curiosity he decided to attend one of the local BNI breakfast meetings and although he was not yet a member, he was enthusiastically welcomed and given a chance to introduce himself and describe his company’s goals. He came away with 56 new business contacts who promised to refer his name to their own networks.

There is no doubt that business clubs and service organisations offer a wide range of opportunities to meet new people, either at home or abroad. Apart from BNI’s chapters in 70 countries, Rotary International has more than one million members worldwide, Kiwanis is active in 80 countries and Lyons Clubs boast of 1.4 million members in 182 countries.

Standard networking

When the economy is in trouble and the stock market is unstable, exporters often rely on networking to seek new international business opportunities. Apart from the above examples, this includes using the services of Canadian Trade Commissioners abroad who can offer suggestions on local Agents to contact, or identify companies to pitch. However, business pressure can blind a Canadian executive to other ways of developing international contacts.

Because we are held captive by electronic social media communication, it is easy to forget the magic of personal relationships, particularly abroad… a “live voice” over the phone, (especially when it comes from Canada) can be an unusual and welcome experience for many. Although telephoning a stranger in a foreign country is a gamble, the worst that can happen is that the other party does not speak English or French, or is not interested – all one will have lost is a little time and a few dollars. However, the magic of a live voice from another part of the world almost always brings about a positive reaction, and a new relationship and unexpected business can result.

Foreign commerce ties

There are many Canadian Chambers and business clubs in foreign capitals created by individuals who want to establish ties with Canada. The Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo and the Chambre de Commerce France-Canada in Paris are good examples. Their members are interested in doing business with Canada and a Canadian executive joining such a Chamber (as a Canada-based member) will therefore have access to that foreign network. Contacting fellow-members directly will offer them a personal connection with a company in North America – the primary reason they joined the Chamber in the first place – and establish unexpected links for the Canadian executive from home.

Canadians overseas

An unusual source of contacts abroad is the Canadian ExPat Association (, an international organisation that provides access to Canadian clubs and business organisations around the world. Membership totals 2.8 million Canadians living abroad, each one knowledgeable about the market s/he is living in, with a network of friends and business contacts that one would probably never have access to otherwise.

Hearing an unexpected Canadian voice on the phone asking for assistance will undoubtedly encourage an expatriate to help, and most will be delighted to provide insights on their market to the new exporter. The saving in time and effort to develop new leads and learn about a foreign market is incalculable.

Foreign Chambers here

Countless Chambers across Canada represent foreign countries, such as the Italian Chamber, the Japanese Chamber, the American Chamber, the Canada-Arab Chamber and others. Apart from promoting their own cultural activities locally, many Chamber members are also interested in business and apart from personal contacts, can provide the names of executives of their related Chambers in the foreign market being targeted. When making contact abroad, mentioning that their Chamber counterpart in Canada had recommended the call will open many doors.

Long-term altruism

Many business magnates succeed because they understand the value of a long-term strategy, which may not necessarily result in immediate profits. While always searching for profitable business deals, they know the value of establishing friendly relationships with individuals and companies that often became valuable partners in the long run.

From an international point of view therefore, it is worthwhile to establish complementary relationships in other geographic locations. Identifying similar interests and being willing to share information and opinions altruistically may be difficult for some – but based on the concept of “paying it forward” with no immediate return, it can become an excellent investment in future business.

Ennio Vita-Finzi has worked on three Continents as a Trade Commissioner, a multinational executive, a successful entrepreneur and a college and university lecturer. [email protected]