Earlier in 2015 I did an interview with a Chinese magazine “International Talent’ about networking in China as a foreign professional. Click to read or you can read the article below if the link no longer works.
Business networking today is an integral part of building one’s business. The more social connections you have, the more chances you will get to rely on a helping hand in business once you need it. It is not a secret that the Chinese are gurus in networking, as their family bonds are very strong, and, for the most part, it is with a family, where the networking begins in China. However, it is even more important for a foreigner to network in China, especially for the newcomers who found themselves in a very unfamiliar environment and are in need of advice or guidance in some way.
On the internet, the definitions for business networking goes as “the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.” Professional business networking events are staged in mostly big cities in China like Beijing and Shanghai. I won a chance to talk to three business network professionals, based in Beijing, who shared with me what it is like building connections in China for foreigners. They all have been living in Beijing long enough to become familiar with the local business environment and came up with the solutions what a foreigner in China needs to know in order to survive and prosper here.
A founder of FCGroup, a company specialized on networking events in China, is Colin Friedman, an English-born Israeli. He first came to China in the remote 1998 as a foreign expert to work for an Israeli company. In 2005 he resigned and started his own company which was a first step to organizing professional business networking events. Mr. Friedman commented: “There were so many questions from moving to China foreigners like how to start doing something in China, all the answers to which I could not know but other people might know.” After a while he started doing his own networking events for three reasons: first, he wanted to legally acquire a data base of all the contacts; second, he enjoyed meeting new people; third, he thought it would be a good way to advertise a company he had set up.
Now, FCGroup pro-actively helps people to build and strengthen business and professional connections and guanxi in order to leverage and focus business and career objectives. They hold the events every Tuesday, organize monthly daytrips and larger events once per quarter. On my inquiry, who mostly come to the events, Colin responded that it’s always people who can speak English and mostly white collars, with some of the participants just beginning their career and probably not as well-off as people of older age. “There are people who are coming on bicycles and people who are coming on Mercedes Benz”, added Mr. Friedman. Colin’s networking events have different topics every session; normally they can also include some guest lecturers and wine tasting, and always – a lucky draw. The guest lecturers give useful tips on how to sign the contract or compile a resume for foreigners to get a job in China. To break the ice at the beginning of the events, every guest is given a badge with his name and “I am recruiting”, “I’m looking for a new job” labels on the badge of different color. According to Mr. Colin Friedman, there are countless people who found job opportunities, countless people who built business connections and their own business because they met necessary people at his events. Albeit online social network is getting stronger, all of them are cold and impersonal. The advantage of networking events, as said Mr. Colin, is that you get a chance to meet the recruiters and hand them your resume. And it means more chances for you, once your CV lands on their desk.
Vadzim Suhak, a Belarussian-born, working for Russian Culture Center in Beijing, is another networking expert who organizes business networking events for expats in Beijing. He used to do this back in Belarus when he was a student and now brought his experience to Beijing. Vadzim tells: “In other countries rather than China, the way how networking event is conducted is slightly different as the western people don’t need the curator who will be intentionally introducing participants to each other. It is in the nature of a westerner to get to know as many people as they can even though after a while they would forget their names. Concerning Russians and Chinese, they both have many things in common, but still, there are some peculiarities. For example, for the Chinese, the status of his counterpart is important. Russians easily interact on business meetings rather than in normal life, while for the Chinese it’s vice versa”, added Vadzim, “In China more emphasis is placed on the importance of “one of us” or “zijiren” people. According to Mr. Vadzim Suhak, the Chinese more than other nations ask what kind of people will be present at the event. Though for the Chinese people it doesn’t matter what profession you have as they consider every person can be useful – you might know a friend of a friend who can be introduced. This scene is rare in Russia. In addition, the Chinese express more curiosity to people of other nationality, and this trait allows them to interact with foreigners freely. Deviating from the nations’ differences, Mr. Vadzim Suhak said that nowadays offline networking events finely coexist with online networking websites and social platforms like linkedin, facebook, wechat. When people meet each other, they tend to exchange their wechat data, emails, social network profiles etc. At the event, the role of a curator is very important. Sometimes, the organizer needs to uncouple participants who have been chatting for a long time just because it seemed impolite for them to stop the conversation, and in their heart, they were grateful to the organizer for that. Another thing that a good networker should remember is that networking is always an exchange, and if you want to receive something, you need to give something in return. According to Vadzim, networking is more important than the revenue that you as an organizer might get. “Sometimes in different situations like when you are sending your child to school, you need to know the principal of the school; or find an expert in a certain area, networking comes in handy. Money is not a tool, but a final result that is earned by means of cooperation with others. Nowadays the reality is that no one guarantees you job for good. Contracts are signed yearly, and situation often changes. That’s why networking is essential in our changeable times.”
Jarome Matthew, a sound designer and audio engineer, with his own company in Beijing, is organizing networking events and serves as a council for Internations’s networking group. Mr. Jarome Matthew comes from Canada, he has been in China for five years. He says: “Of course, we are new here, and networking is important for me to meet new people and colleagues.” His events are staged monthly on Mondays. Mr. Jarome Matthew’s networking activities focus mostly on his professional area – audio, sound, music, acting. But topics vary. “We choose different topics. For example, last time the topic was how to stay healthy in China. And we invited a lecturer. He talked about the pollution of the factories and how China invest lots of money to improve the situation”, Jarome added. The guest speakers lecture about working permits and immigration laws for foreigners, they can give advice on how to avoid problems in China and help people stay in China for longer.
Albeit all the positive and bright sides of the networking, it takes plenty of time. Also, Jarome Matthew, along with Vadzim Suhak and Colin Friedman, pointed out that the Chinese seem to be more timid at the events and they need a curator to foster their interaction with each other.
They say, where your friends are, there your riches are. Business networking is not always about job and business partners seeking. First of all, it is about broadening your circle of friends. The organizers of the events do their best to create a relaxing environment, to involve people into interaction. It doesn’t matter which country you choose to live in, surrounding yourself with like-minded people is as important as having a good job. In this sense, business networking events in Beijing are served to make life of expats more enjoyable helping the latter with adaptation to a new scene.