When the economy is in trouble and the stock market is unstable, exporters tend to rely on networking to seek new international business opportunities.
In the case of Canadian exporters, this will often include using the services of Trade Commissioners abroad who can offer suggestions on local agents to contact, or potential new clients to pitch.
Professionals also frequently turn to online channels for international networking, including LinkedIn and Twitter, as a quick way to try to make new contacts.
However, business pressure will often blind a Canadian executive to other ways of developing international contacts and the following out-of-the-box methods can bring surprising results.
1. Get in touch with 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 and with a network that others would 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 new market is incalculable.
After retiring as a Trade Commissioner, I lived in Brussels for a year and once received a phone call from a Canadian exporter. He had taken the trouble to locate me and asked for information on the Benelux market.
Two years later he introduced himself to me at a Toronto seminar to tell me that my contacts had resulted in several lucrative deals for his company in the Dutch market.
2. Canadian Chambers of Commerce abroad
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.
I was a member of both of those Chambers when I lived in those countries and Canadian business visitors were particularly welcome as they were able to provide members with current up-to-date information on what was happening in Canada at that very moment.
I remember a Toronto-based executive who, in spite of speaking atrocious French, was nevertheless able to partner with a company based in Lyons and start what would eventually result in a partnership to manufacture household appliances for the French market.
3. Local Chambers of Commerce abroad
A different approach is to become a Canada-based member of a Chamber in another country. For example, a Chamber of Commerce in a small town in Texas helps local business members to do business within the U.S.
Several years ago, as a Canadian businessman based in Toronto, I became an “international member” of such a Chamber and attended some of their meetings. The result was that my new network of local contacts started looking at Canada as a new source of products. And as an added benefit to the Chamber, it was then able to boast that their membership was now “international” – a win-win situation.
4. Foreign Chambers of Commerce and Clubs at home
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 local cultural activities, members are also interested in business. Along with personal contacts, they can also 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 suggested the call will open many doors.
Held captive by electronic social media communication, it is easy to forget the magic of a personal relationship and the effect of a “live voice” over the phone, particularly when it comes from abroad.
Although telephoning a stranger in a foreign country is a gamble, the worst that can happen is that the other party 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 is sure to bring about a positive reaction, a new relationship … and often some unexpected results.
One such example was an initial phone call which led to the appointment of an Agent in Brazil. Two years later, the President of the Canadian exporting company married the Agent after successfully developing the Mercosur market together.
When was the last time you picked up the phone to build a new business relationship? Which of these channels could potentially be a big help for your business?