Networking isn’t everyone’s strong point.
Even as a confident - if not reluctant - networker myself, starting over to build a network in a new country was daunting for me.
But I’ve been in New Zealand almost 7 months now and I’m pleasantly surprised that a third of my freelance work load now comes from local businesses as much as it does from those back in the UK/Ireland, where I had spent a decade building a professional reputation.
So I thought I’d share some tips with you on how I did it!
This should hopefully be useful for you whether you’re a student travelling on a gap year, a first-time digital nomad, or you’re emigrating as an older professional with your family, as I did.
Get Advice Before You Go
Before I left Ireland I attended the Digital DNA event and received some fantastic advice at the Irish International Business Network (IIBN) panel talk entitled “Do you want to grow your global network?” expertly chaired by Irish startup stalwart Mary McKenna.
The panel included Susan Hayes AKA The Positive Economist - one of the most impressive people that I’ve had the privilege to meet in person. Susan works all over the world and so I took the opportunity to ask the panel their top tips for someone like me, moving abroad and starting to build a professional network from scratch…
Susan gave me three key pieces of advice that I brought to NZ with me:
- Garner your links back to the UK for those you meet who may want to expand there or learn from there; your connections and knowledge are invaluable.
- Recognise your empathy for those who may be isolated or have also started afresh – empathy is a uniting emotion that helps to build relationships.
- Utilise the flexibility that digital technology brings to modern business and stay confident that you can continue to work and network online as you have always done, merely in a different place.
I can’t tell you how important this advice has been for me. All three elements have been crucial in my ability to not only continue my work but actually grow my business since moving abroad!
So practically, what steps made that happen?
Pretty soon after arriving in Dunedin, I was advised to contact the Marketing department of the local University (Otago). It’s one of the most renowned universities in NZ and is also the biggest employer in the city. I didn’t expect a reply within a day, nor an invite to meet them that week.
But it became obvious that they don’t often see people with my experience down here in the South Island because most of the big PR and Marketing agencies are located in Auckland, in the North. So immediately I was offered guest lecturing opportunities.
And while I can only be paid a low hourly rate because I don’t have a Phd, it’s great experience for me and was my first chance to meet people in my industry locally. Universities and Colleges are some of the most well-connected organisations in any city - connected both to employers and to events - so those teams are good people to know.
My second reaching out happened a month later, as I was researching organisations on social media who worked in the digital sphere in the city. I came across the Facebook Page for a locally funded Mozilla Hive group who ran workshops on coding and Minecraft for kids. They were looking for a volunteer to help run their social channels a few hours per week and I thought this would be a great way to make more industry friends so I applied.
The manager (a really cool woman called Ann who was, coincidentally, an Irish emigrant herself) offered to meet me and share her experience of the digital scene in the city. She told me I couldn’t volunteer for the role because it was a student job… and instead offered to pay me to run a Social Media training event for local charities.
She also invited me to a cool event on AR at the local co-working space “Petridish” in exchange for my writing up the editorial content for it on their website. Again, here I met more cool local people and found a space to network further.
I did sign up to services like Meetup and found some interesting groups on there, although given my workload, parenthood and all the admin that comes with emigrating, I haven’t gotten round to attending any of the Dunedin meetups (yet!)
However, through my Instagram searches for Dunedin-based bloggers - another group I felt I could have something in common with - I had followed an inspiring profile from Fijian emigrant Vanisha about her blog “A Life Unstyled.” Despite being busy with consultancy research work, Instagram training and a young son, Vanisha offered to meet me for coffee and I instantly loved her!
We have met since although she’s working in Australia now for a few months. As well as friendship, Vanisha understood what it was like to be a creative-for-hire, and she invited me to join the local “Rising Tide Society” group that she helps to manage. They meet one Tuesday evening a month and follow a chosen conversation topic, from finances to social media marketing.
It was lovely to be among business women again and learn from their local knowledge.
Put Yourself Out There
It’s always awkward to ask for help, to reach out to people, to knock on doors (or more usually in the modern world, to send emails), but it’s really the only way.
People don’t know you’re here and available unless you tell them.
I used whatever networks or contacts I had to do this, including my own husband (!) as he had existing links in the city having played rugby and studied here in his youth. His contacts led to my being invited to speak about social media marketing for community sports organisations at the Sport Otago forum meeting this month. (Sport Otago is an umbrella body group covering a huge geographical area in the South Island).
I gave my time freely to share my advice and tips for groups that had little-to-no budgets, knowing that again, it would help to meet more local people, especially those who do similar work to me.
And now I have email marketing consultancy work with one sporting organisation, athlete social media reputation training with another, and a presentation on social media investment with the Board of a third sporting organisation. I’m also in talks to present to sporting organisations further afield, in Central and North Otago.
All from that one event.
Similarly, when I saw the National Digital Forum advertising for applications for conference speakers on Twitter, I put together a proposal to share the digital advancements of museums and tourist attractions in Ireland as advice “from one island to another” and hit the submit button (immediately crippled with nerves and hoping they would ignore me).
But low and behold, I’ve been asked to deliver it as a workshop in November.
Now as it stands I don’t yet have the funds to travel and accept the opportunity (sad face). But I have signed up as an NDF member because I love the museum and arts sectors personally, while also working in the digital industries professionally. And I’ve since met one of their board members who is based in Dunedin for coffee and a chat.
Always making more friends, more work connections. Always learning.
Did The Advice Work?
So if you look back at the advice I was given, it’s all covered in those simple steps.
- “Garner your links back to the UK…” part of the reason I am offered so many opportunities is because my experience in Europe is valuable learning to New Zealand businesses.
- “Recognise your empathy…” a lot of people here are emigrants. And even if they’re Kiwis, they may not have grown up in Dunedin. There’s always that basis for mutual understanding. So many people helped me because they had walked in my shoes.
- “Utilise the flexibility that digital technology brings to modern business and stay confident that you can continue to work and network online as you have always done…” I still do all my research online, a lot of my networking begins online, and half of my work is conducted remotely, online!
Of course there are elements of my business that have grown naturally, or from other work that I’ve been doing in the background to market myself for many years before moving.
For example one of my retainer clients asked me to increase my monthly hours by a quarter. That’s partly down to their own expansion and partly because I’ve done a good job for them for the last 6 months.
Another client is someone who followed my work back in Belfast but didn’t hire me until she started a business with her own clients.
And a new client from California came across my blogs online and felt that I was the right person to help them kick start their Digital PR.
Blogging being the main marketing tactic I’ve been working on for myself since June 2013 (making this month - June - the blog’s fourth birthday . Send cake!)
So happy birthday to “aCupOfLee” and happy half-year in NZ.
I’ll toast to that…