Many people feel an aversion towards “networking” because it feels too forced. If this is how you feel about networking, then maybe it’ll make it easier if you just think about it as meeting people rather than “networking”. Networking doesn’t have to be about wanting to get something from the people you meet, you can make it about either helping the people you meet, or even just making friends for its own sake. In fact, I find that the latter two are often the best ways to think about networking. Meet people, see what you can do to help them, and then just see what other opportunities may come up in the future.
I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by how friendly other foreigners living in China are, and how willing they are to just strike up a conversation. If nothing else, you always one have thing in common: that you are both living in a foreign land. So one great way to expand your social or business network is simply to strike up conversations with a lot of people. You simply never know what will come of it, be it a long-term, close friendship or a long-term business relationship that wasn’t even conceived of when you first met.
Expanding your circle of friends
There are many easy ways to meet people when you move to any new place, and these certainly hold true when you move to any major city in China, whether you can speak the language or not. If you have a specific hobby, run a quick search on the web and see if you can find groups of people with common interests so you can join them for different events or activities. For example, if you love hiking, a quick search will probably reveal a hiking club that you can join so you can make some friends. Whether you are interested in just making new friends or expanding your business network, starting with your own interests and moving on from there is always a great way to go.
Expanding your professional network
If you are interested in meeting people with similar professional interests, you will likely find that there are many professional groups and events that would welcome you. For example, if you are an entrepreneur in the mobile app space who has recently moved to China and is interested in meeting other entrepreneurs, searching on LinkedIn for groups using the search terms “China Startup” and “China Entrepreneur” will lead you to groups like “Startup Specialists” and “Chinese Entrepreneur (China Business)”, both of which have information about networking events and conferences, and have active mailing lists. Some of these events require prior signup and a small fee, but often these groups also have open networking events that you can take advantage of. And when you attend these events, don’t feel shy about striking up conversations with people because everyone is there to network; that’s the whole point of the event. So just start chatting with people about what they do, and about your interests, and see what happens.
Don’t put to much pressure on yourself
Depending on your personality, you might find it very difficult to strike up conversations with random people. I know that I often feel awkward about it, especially when I have a specific objective in mind like expanding my professional network. You’ll need to convince yourself that just talking with people isn’t a bad thing; you’re simply trying to make some friends. And something that always helps me out is reminding myself that I’m not looking for anything specific from the person I meet, and that I am actually very excited about helping them (which is true, I like helping people achieve their goals) if there’s some way I can. And, if nothing else, it’s just nice to meet people and learn about their interests. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself and you might find that it’s easier to just start chatting with people. You never know where a random conversation may lead, and, if nothing else, at least you have met someone new.