If you are an expat that moved recently to the Netherlands, the post written by our partner Condible is a must-read. Also, if you are looking to find more about the expat experience in the Netherlands, this might also be interesting for you.
Take the reality as a starting point
If you are an expat, then you have come to another country and you hardly know anybody.
Most probably, you find yourself in one of the following groups: love expats or professional/business expats. If you are in the first group, you know your partner and her/his closest friends and family – let’s assume that you speak the same language and you took a liking :-). If the second group is yours, you know, or soon will know, few people from your work or in connection with your business activities.
One way or another, your own offline, social network is like a baby in its infancy and this puts you at a disadvantage in various areas.
Fortunately, if you are an expat, most likely you are a person who is open-minded, curious about new people and experiences, and you take pleasure from learning new things. Having baby enthusiasm and the energy of a newcomer who wants to catch up, are your biggest advantages. This will gradually help you to close the connections gap.
– Find yourself a friendly (support) group as soon as possible. It does not have to be big but most importantly, that it fuels your internal fire and helps you go through various transitional situations.
– Choose a support group that has the potential to make you feel good. Ask yourself questions: do I like it here, what can I give and what can I get? – Eventually, what goes around comes around. You can check websites such as IamExpat to find more about social networking communities.
Don’t let reality block you – change it
If you are like most people, you simply need to get to know new people. First of all, to be happy. Secondly, to make full use of your potential. After all, going abroad does not make your desires and ambitions smaller, does it? And we all know that we do not lead our professional/business life in a vacuum. Other people are not only our friends, support group, or mentors but also future bosses, service providers, business partners or clients. So, we need, and we do network, regardless of our conscious successes in this field. However, in our own country networking often went automatically. When you come to a new place, you may feel that old patterns do not work anymore. A new approach is necessary.
There is not one definition of networking and definitely not only one way how to do this. A lot of useful content has been created on networking and is widely accessible. Sometimes it is good to start looking for a new approach from a theory, even if only for inspiration. If you are looking for such a start, you can check the book “So you think you can’t network” by Lin McDevitt Pugh. It explains a concept of networking in a very friendly manner and it includes also a lot of practical exercises.
– Do not ask Dutch people how they network because most likely they do it automatically and do not think that they have any special way of networking; just ask your befriended Dutch person to invite you to his/her group – you will learn by doing.
– If you connect your professional/business life with The Netherlands and you still have some career pinnacle to conquer, start learning Dutch; you don’t want to depend on somebody else’s willingness to switch into English forever, do you?
So how to change reality?
Our experience shows that there are two main factors necessary to build wide and fruitful connections. First of all, personal energy and drive – which will be the basis for a “click” with others. Secondly, a practical, systematic and disciplined approach, which will be the structure for the “clicks” to built on.
These two factors are equally important, and one may not bring the effect without the other, especially if you want to network for professional/business purposes. We understand that you want to grow and develop thanks to your connections, and you wish the same for all people within your network. To let it happen you need a step by step plan and focus.
We believe that most of the people understand (or feel), let’s call it, an energetic aspect of networking. However, many do not know how to create the structural aspect of networking. So, let’s focus here on this challenge.
As an expat, you miss (at least) half of your natural network. You can no longer rely on your family or school/university connections and maybe you left behind some valuable relationships from your professional/business life. It means that you are faced with two main challenges. Each of us expats need to figure out how she/he is going to close the gap in a missing network and how to benefit from the strength of existing connections?
Closing the networking gap
The networking gap can be closed by rather intense actions, often connected with high investment, whether we talk about time, energy or even money.
You can go back to school or take some offline courses where you will meet interesting people while gaining knowledge. For example, I started to study at Radboud University the year after my arrival to The Netherlands. I chose the Migration Law track in order to learn more about my situation as a European citizen. But I also took courses on business law in The Netherlands, to learn about Dutch business law specifics. Studying was an excellent opportunity to meet other students, teachers and start new relationships. It helped me to enter (part of) Dutch society in a structured way.
The other way to work on closing the gap is to become a volunteer in an organization with an activity that is in line with your interests. For example, we know many people in our social circle who decided to join Toastmaster clubs and who had functions in clubs’ structures. These let them, on one hand, master their speech skill and, on the other hand, show their organisational talents. Monika Boomgaard, my business partner, decided to be a football coach of her son’s team. Thanks to this, she is able to combine the mother’s attention to a child’s hobby with participation in a local community and building closer relationships with other parents. She can also express her own passion for football and social gatherings during the matches.
We are both active in the Polish Professional Women association, where we meet other Polish professional/business ladies and, among others, work on our professional and personal development. We also joined Polaris network to meet more inspiring women and to develop our mentoring skills.
Choose activities or organizations that suit you the best. The relationships that you are going to build will be like a new networking tissue filling the missing space created after you left your country.
– Do not expect to create new, valuable connections that are going to have a similar meaning as your high school or university friendships within a short period of time;
– Practice, and publicly show, what you are good at; most likely you will get acknowledgement for your achievements and will have the opportunity to help others and create “clicks”.
Benefit from the strengths of existing connections
So, as we said at the beginning of this blog, as an expat you, most likely, hardly know anybody. Even so, there are still a couple of people whose contact details you recorded on your telephone, on LinkedIn, on Facebook or any other social media, aren’t there? Do you know if they live close or far away from you? Can you meet them and where? Do you know what they are doing? Do you have any nice tips which could be interesting to them? And most importantly from your perspective; did you tell them about your ambitions and plans, so they understand how they can be of help to you?
When developing our business CONDIBLE, we applied a very practical approach on shifting the strength of our existing contacts (also) to our benefit. This was our approach:
Step one – mindset change: Give yourself a “yes” to talking with family and friends (those who you have in the Netherlands) about professional/business challenges. Asking family and friends for a professional/business favor does not mean the end of your private relationship. Contrary, your relationship will be enriched by a new, important aspect for you – your professional/business being in The Netherlands. Also, do not expect too much e.g. immediate and miraculous effects. Other people can be helpful to you but, of course, they will not solve your problems, especially not after one conversation.
Step two – situation’s assessment: collect all the contacts you have in the Netherlands. Who are these people? Are they family members, friends, acquaintances, professional/business contacts, others? What role do they play in your network: can they be your ambassadors, partners, clients etc.? Do not exclude anybody, as at this stage you probably do not know all the professional/business details of the people in your network.
Step three – preparation: let’s imagine you have a possibility to meet these people, do you know how to talk to them, so they can understand your situation, what you do, what you need? You should be able to present them information in a way that is appealing and understanding to them. It is assumable that a discussion with your mother in law will be different from the one with your acquaintance who happens to do the same what you would like to do. Although both conversations can open new opportunities for you.
Step four – giving: think what you can give back to people in your network. It can be the same to what you would like from them, but it can also be something completely different. Various people are in various stages in their life, so they need various things. Offer something that you feel comfortable with and that makes you feel good. Do not think that you have nothing to give. Everybody has!
Step five – taking: make a plan on what you would like to receive from each person in your network. It can be information, recommendations, exposure, or introduction to contacts of somebody else. Try to be clear. Most people want to help you but they just do not how. If it takes too much effort, they are forced to resign because they have their own priorities.
Step six – practicing: planning and preparation are good. It helps to stay focused and to have a feeling of control. However, do not prolong this phase. Nothing will happen unless you start doing, i.e. networking. You need to talk to the people on your list, explain to them what you are doing and what you are looking for, ask them what they need and try to help them to get it. And do not forget to follow up. If you need warming up, join some events that are focused on networking, giving and getting. A great opportunity can be the Give and Get Workshop organized by Polaris.
We have kept on using this approach and it brings us positive results. To make this blog more practical: at CONDIBLE we help clients with business planning – and when it comes to expats, we help them start and develop their business. We like to work with interesting and courageous people, so if you are one of them or you know a person who wants to start a business, let us know! But even if you are not thinking about starting your business, but you are an expat who wants to talk with someone with practical experience, also let us know – we are happy to share our experience in networking, getting to like The Netherlands, being volunteers or starting pro-bono initiatives.
Author: Daria Kanters & Monika Boomgaard run CONDIBLE a boutique consultancy company which focuses on strategy, problem-solving and business development. Monika and Daria worked in London, Warsaw, Brussels and Amsterdam for major multinational corporations. Now they use their expertise to help small businesses get started, resolve problems and grow. Together they are CONDIBLE the strategic sparring partner for your small business: www.condible.com