Business Networking

One of the most important things you need to do in order to succeed in business is networking. For newcomers, this can be a real challenge, because chances are, you left your network of friends and business associates back in your homeland. So when you come to Canada, you have to start building a new network from the ground up. There are many ways to do this.

Pay attention to names. Collect business cards. Find excuses to call people up. Use the network you are building and recommend clients to them. This is a very good way to build relationships, but it can be quite slow and the benefits are often not apparent for a while.

The best way to speed up this process is to join networking organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade, ethnic business associations and small business networking groups.

Business networking groups like BIG, BNI, Le Tip and World Class Joint Ventures were designed to broaden your network and help you forge business relationships that are good for everyone. Different types of networking groups work for different types of people.

Some groups, like BNI (Business Networking International), are operated very much like businesses themselves. BNI was started in the US and has chapters in over 180 countries. It is founded on the principal of "Givers Gain" - if you give someone business, they will give you business in return. This is done through word-of-mouth referrals. You carry the business cards of other members and pass your card to people needing the services they offer. In many ways, it is like having a team of salespeople working for you. But you must never lose sight of the fact that you are one of those salespeople and you are working for the other members of your chapter.

BNI is possibly the most rigidly structured of all the small business networking groups, but because of that, possibly the most productive. You must attend (or send someone to attend in your place) every meeting. Those meetings are usually breakfast meetings - finished by 9 am so they don't interfere with your business day. Some groups do have luncheon meetings, but those are the exception rather than the rule. You must give referrals and/or bring visitors (potential new members) on a weekly basis. Each chapter can only contain one member from each "category", so that you are never competing for referrals against someone else in the group. You will be the only florist, signmaker or contractor in the chapter. Every meeting follows a strict blueprint, and you are expected to work hard to bring business to your fellow members. The most important thing to know is that this strategy does work. If you are a productive member of the group - you will probably get thousands or even 10s of thousands of dollars in business through the other group members. On the downside - this can be demanding. Bringing visitors and finding referrals for your fellow members can take away some of the time you spend on your own business. But if you are a dedicated BNI member, you can depend on making back far more than you spend on dues. Visit their website at www.bnicanada.ca to find a chapter near you.

Like BNI, LeTip is an international organization of business professionals. Founded in 1978, LeTip has over 10,000 members in 450 chapters throughout the United States and Canada. Here too, conflicts of interest are not allowed, so no one is competing with you for your business. And their main goal is to provide qualified business leads to each other. They have six chapters in Ontario. Visitwww.letip.comto find the nearest one.

BIG (Business Innovation Group) is more local and more casual in its demands upon members. They have scheduled luncheon meetings. Helping your business grow and succeed through referrals, learning, motivation, and mentoring. Membership costs $188 per year and they meet once a month for breakfast, lunch or dinner (depending on the chapter). Check their website at www.bignetworking.ca.

A different kind of business model is offered by World Class Joint Ventures (Dollarmakers). Memberships start at $247 per year. You will be encouraged to attend a Joint Ventures Boot Camp (cost $500 US), but this is not required. The basic idea behind Joint Ventures is learning how to make money by connecting business owners with the resources they want and need. In the process, you benefit from other peoples' skills, resources, products, services and reputations. This interesting and usable approach undoubtedly works well for some participants, but as founder Robin Elliott stresses in his book, Joint Adventures, (to download a free copy of the book go to www.wcjv.com/jointadventures.pdf) you need to be "absolutely focused, committed and responsible for [your] own success." To find out more, visit their website, www.worldclassjointventures.com. They host seminars and regular networking meetings in Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton where you can share experiences and trade referrals.

You can also search on the internet for business networking opportunities. One useful site is Business Partnerships Canada at www.businesspartnerships.ca. You can often learn all you need to know about a group by checking out their website. If it is not updated regularly, you may want to think twice about signing up.

There are women's networking groups like the Canadian Association of Women Executives & Entrepreneurs (www.cawee.net) and gay/lesbian networking groups like Pride Business Network ( www.pbntoronto.com). There are also dozens of ethnic business associations worth joining.

A great resource for anyone looking for Asian business networking opportunities is www.asiapacificbusiness.ca. There, you will find dozens of listings for organizations like the Chinese Professionals Association of Canada, Canadian Tamil Chamber of Commerce and the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce.

The Chinese Professionals Association of Canada (CPAC) is a federally registered, not-for-profit organization. Since 1992, CPAC has developed into a high-profile, influential national organization serving the interests of its members and the Chinese community. With its head office in Toronto, CPAC has a current membership of over 20,000 and is the largest group of its kind in Canada. The fields of expertise of the CPAC membership include almost every profession, from accounting to zoology. Their website is at www.chineseprofessionals.ca.

Established in 1991, the Canadian Tamil Chamber of Commerce (CTCC) is a voluntary, non-political, and not-for profit organization aimed at developing successful businesses and entrepreneurship in the Tamil community in Canada, and at promoting involvement with charities and volunteer organizations in the community. CTCCs membership continues to expand and currently stands at over 450.

The Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) is a privately funded, not-for-profit, business organization representing over 1000 Indo-Canadian members from the Canadian business and professional communities. Founded in 1977, ICCC's objectives include Promoting and facilitating trade and commerce between Canada, India and other countries around the world, by creating relationships and links with global business organizations, as well as providing members with a forum for networking, sharing ideas, information and experiences in order to promote mutual business success.

Finding business associations for other ethnicities can be a bit trickier. You can start by going to your favourite search engine and entering search-strings like "business network", "Ontario", "BC", "Ukrainian", "South African" etc. After a few attempts, you may discover organizations like The Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Federation at www.infoukes.com/ucpbf. Or you can get in touch with your local Chamber of Commerce and ask if they know of any business associations aimed specifically at serving members of your own ethnic community.

CNM