November 23, 2020

A Brits Guide to Networking in NYC

Networking in America is different from networking back home. For members of the British business expat community, whether you’ve been in the U.S. for a few months or years, networking is well worth the effort and time put in.

In my experience, networking and building new relationships has played an important role in my career and charitable endeavors. In early 2001, I arrived in New York City from London, going from a real estate industry based on salaried, ‘Chartered Surveyors’ to one where, ‘Brokers’ are largely 100% commission only.

I quickly learned that Americans see ‘selling’ as a skill you can get better at with practice and being good at networking is part of that skill set. In this article, I hope to pass along some of my experience to those who are new to networking in New York, and why embracing your British heritage will serve you well as you strive for success in America.

How is networking in the U.S. different?

Outside of the British expat community, there are hundreds of networking groups, across a variety of formats. One thing that will strike most Brits new to an American networking group is how forthright many of the participants are.

Generally speaking, business networking is the same concept around the world. Whether you go for an early start, with coffee, tea and pastries, or evening networking with drinks and nibbles, the way it works is comfortingly familiar both sides of the Atlantic. Everyone is in the same boat. Meeting and talking with strangers about our work, seeing if we can help one another, or introducing people to those who can help them.

However, in America, people aren’t afraid to talk about their strengths and achievements. An unwillingness to talk confidently about ones skills and successes could be misconstrued as lacking confidence, even expertise and experience. Networking in America is about being bolder, braver, and more confident. Don’t be afraid to talk up your wins, goals, knowledge, network, and successes with others in networking groups.

Something else that will become obvious fairly quickly: the way people look out for one another, helping each other out, is encouraged. Referring business and making meaningful connections are a form of currency. Whether you are in a business networking group, in a church or synagogue, among family and friends, or networking with alma mater, Americans are more inclined to provide proactive support. Whenever you can, help others. Providing support to others in a networking group is often repaid many times over.

Doing business in the States: How this differs from the UK?

Something I have seen far too often is the unfortunate belief that success in the UK will automatically translate in the U.S. This is often fueled by misconstruing American positivity as an endorsement of a service or product. Achieving the actual sale is a very different proposition. We share a history, a language, have many cultural similarities, but there are many differences too.

For starters, we have to remember the size and scale of this country. Many a British business, including giants such as Tesco and M&S have tried and failed here. There are numerous cultural and value-based nuances that can take a while to get familiar with. America is a $18 trillion economy with over 300 million consumers, but it doesn’t mean getting a slice of that pie is going to be easy.

Running a business in New York involves more rules and red tape than most professionals are familiar with in the UK. Navigating the intricacies of complying with multiple laws as a business often means having a decent lawyer ready to help as needed.

Banking is another surprise for many who are not used to the system here. Forget Chip & PIN, forget contactless and instant transfers. Banking in the U.S. is slower and more expensive. You’ll use payment by checks/cheques far more frequently. Even in stores and restaurants, payments often need to be signed for! Clearing and transfer times are not unlike banking in the UK before various reforms in the early 2000s.

I could go on about many more differences, but that will have to wait for another article. Back to networking and how Brit’s can use it to succeed in the States.

How to network your way into the American market

Tempting though it might be, you shouldn’t limit yourself to the expat community in New York or any other American city. Get out and experience the U.S. among a wider selection of professionals, both in your sector and outside of it.

However, if you start networking within the British community, you can learn to leverage the goodwill and support that exists and learn from others who have succeeded here.

Starting to network within the expat community will do you a world of good. But go beyond it too. Use it as a safe and supportive jumping point into the unknown. At the same time, Brits who shun the expat community and go it alone often struggle more than they should. Avoid the mistake of clinging too tightly or being too distant.

For those who are curious what networking groups there are, I can recommend the following five groups (in no particular order) as a starting point.

Top 5 Expat Networking Groups in New York City

#1: British American Business (BAB)

BAB is the leading transatlantic trade group with around 450 member companies, offices in NYC and London, and a mission to support trade and investment between the U.S. and the UK.

BAB acts as a high-level ‘convener’, part trade promotion agency and part policy think tank and advocate. Membership ranges from $1,050 to $6,875 per annum, depending on the size of your company. They host regular breakfast and evening networking events, and interesting talks from business leaders to Ambassadors. My particular favorite is the annual Christmas lunch at the Pierre Hotel.

BAB have also recently started the “Accelerate Dinner” series aimed at small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs which you can attend even if you’re not a member.

For more information on BAB contact Tamra Eker teker@babinc.org

#2: St George’s Society of New York

The St George’s Society of New York is a prominent charity with a strong network of supporters in the city. They do a lot of important work in local communities, focusing on three areas: supporting families affected by pediatric cancer, enabling low-income students to complete their college education, and protecting the elderly at risk of homelessness.

It is also a membership organization. Annual dues range from $75 (under 30) to $100 individual and $175 (joint, 2 people). Members not only support the charitable mission but also have access to a variety of benefits including discount offers and exclusive event invitations. Members can enjoy regular networking opportunities and social gatherings, from pub quizzes to gala dinners. My favorites are Pancake Day, Bonfire Night and the British Bash! Only the best party of the year, in my opinion. (Full disclosure: I helped start the Bash)

For more information on membership contact Hastings Hill hastings@stgeorgessociety.org

#3: British Consulate

As an expat I always felt it was smart to get to know the local British Consulate. You never know when you might need help, and in return I always try and support the Consulate’s promotion of Britain in America. The Consulate, which largely promotes trade in the country, also supports a networking group, the Great British Business Club (GBBC). It was launched by the Department of International Trade (DIT) in 2015 and is free for UK headquartered companies with a NY office

The GBBC now has over 200 members. It also gives companies the opportunity to receive the support of the DIT as they expand across the USA. Events are quarterly, and I particularly like the annual “Speed Networking” night where you get to meet a lot of people in one night in an organized and structured way.

For more info on the GBBC contact Ari Newsome Ari.Newsome@mobile.trade.gov.uk

#4: Captain’s Knock

I couldn’t put this list together without mentioning Captain’s Knock, which is — as some of you know — my events company. I founded it when I realized there was a gap in the market for good quality networking events around sports loved by expats: cricket, soccer and rugby.

Our signature event is the Rugby Legends Dinner, hosted by England & British & Irish Lions legend, Jeremy Guscott, held every February in the middle of the 6Nations. It supports a charity Play Rugby USA, also set up and run by Brits which uses rugby as a tool to empower and inspire youths from under served communities. We also hold other transatlantic inspired events, such as viewing parties for the Royal Wedding and when USA played England in the Rugby & Soccer World Cups. If you want to receive details on events drop me a line, and I’ll add you to the e-mail list. Some events are free, some invitation only and others like the Legends Dinner are ticketed.

#5: UK Alumni Group (UKAG)

Many UK schools and universities have alumni groups, or chapters, in New York but few have enough alumni to support frequent reunions or gatherings. Each group usually has a local organizer who communicates with their alumni colleagues through email or social media. If a visiting academic, or senior executive from their university visits New York an event is often put on, but there aren’t always enough alumni to warrant ongoing events and meet-ups.

To solve this problem and bring together Brits across the city, ten years ago a few chapter organisers formed the UK Alumni Group (UKAG) which connects all the local organizers in an informal collective. UKAG hosts events which are open to all groups and promotes events of other UK-related networks and clubs. UKAG sends periodic emails to each chapter’s organizer listing upcoming events and the organizer can choose which of those to share with their own alumni.

With over 30 universities as members of UKAG, the group’s events are always well attended and the other networks appreciate the extra promotion. This process also helps each individual chapter’s engage and connect with their alumni.

I’d recommend reaching out to your own school or university’s alumni office to see if there is a New York chapter and a local contact.

You can receive the UKAG emails directly if you e-mail David Drinkwater at davedrink@gmail.com

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