By: 
Trevor Dauphinee
December 27, 2017

In my role at The Ontario Investment Office, I meet many people have recently relocated to a new city, or are considering it soon. Actively building a professional network is not easy, but it pays off.

We all know the movers and shakers who have deeply benefited from building their own network. I often think of Robert Hardt, former CEO of Siemens Canada. He was a German transplant arriving in Ontario to lead firm's Canadian operation. During his time in Canada, he became a huge champion of the province and its people despite his roots overseas. He proactively engaged with government to provide strategic input to help grow Ontario's ecosystem. Importantly, he brought the public and private sectors together to do it. He was a great connector.

On a macro scale, big business is fueled by powerful networking across industry lines. Take the technology sector in Ontario as an example: we've seen tremendous innovation through the financial sector and tech startups. ChangeJar, for one, is building a digital wallet through the Innovation Incubator Project, an initiative between Ontario and IBM. As well, the marriage between our automotive and technology sectors, with an emphasis on our work in artificial intelligence, has lured Uber to our doorstep. With the help of Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, the company was able to tap into the talent at the University of Toronto and advance their work in autonomous vehicles. And all of this is only possible through connecting sectors.

Now, down to brass tacks: I've outlined a few key tips on how best to build your network in a new city.

Informational interviews are highly beneficial if they are conducted with the right contacts.

Create a targeted list of contacts before you relocate, and reach out to them directly with relevant messages. The list should include people within your sector, but you should also widen the net to include the broader ecosystem. Look at what's happening from the regulatory standpoint and research the people who can provide insight, such as government contacts and its affiliates. Invest some time reaching out to the institutions with specialties in your sector or adjacent verticals.

Going to a networking event? Showing up is not enough.

When you arrive in a new city, there are many opportunities to attend networking events, both formal and informal. These events are important and beneficial to building a network, and I always recommend attending as many as possible (as much as you might want to stay home and watch Netflix). But before you do, scan the attendee list and identify who you want to speak to. Doing this will ensure you get the most out of each event and make the best impression on everyone you speak to. It can also help guide and support you in often overwhelming and sometimes intimidating moments.

Know what resources are available to you.

In any city there will be a range of business associations, sites and resources available. Knowing what these are and how you can use them can be a huge advantage. In Ontario, the Ontario Investment Office can help. In addition to hosting events, our sector experts can facilitate introductions and engage people, whether they are direct contacts or through our affiliations. If you're a member of the start-up community, for instance, we might connect you to local players within the ONE (the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs), such as Toronto's MaRS and VentureLab, Kitchener's Communitech, TechAlliance in London, or Invest Ottawa. If your business is exports, we might put you in touch with Ontario Global 100. Aside from this, look at city-specific sites, and sector-specific associations. For example, in Toronto we have the Toronto Board of Trade which always has events to attend, and memberships on offer.

Consider recreational options, not just professional.

Some of the best networking opportunities come from the most unlikely sources. A colleague of mine has made some of her best professional connections at the dog park. I once met an extremely valuable contact on a flight back from vacation in Tennessee. While these might be chance events, it points to a bigger opportunity to consider options outside the ordinary. Look for clubs and groups in an area of interest – whether that be exercise, art, singing, or reading. If you don't find a professional contact, you'll always meet like-minded people who might be able to point you in the right direction.

Nurture relationships.

Nurturing the relationship is equally important to building it. In Ontario, while there is healthy competition in the province, it features a collaborative ecosystem, possibly more so than other markets. It's important to take advantage of this. It's one thing to connect with someone on LinkedIn, and another to say you have a strong, valuable relationship. Through giving something back, by doing things for people, you ensure you are building and maintaining robust ties.

For me, that is what networking is all about. It's the ability to build and maintain strong relationships within your sector and with other members of the business community, and seizing every opportunity you have – professional and recreational.

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