Unless you’re one of life’s natural social butterflies, the idea of an evening spent networking very possibly has you running for cover. For the uninitiated, the word may conjure up visions of bright-eyed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, gathered at 7am, elevator pitches at the ready. Or perhaps an evening of two-minute conversations with strangers, sizing each other up for potential personal gain.
The bad news for retiring types is that networking in Barcelona is an essential part of business and career growth. If you’re a freelancer, have your own business, or are just looking to improve your lot in the city, you’ll need to create a strong network of contacts to really get ahead. The Spanish perfected the art of networking long before the Anglo Saxon term for it existed, and business here relies heavily on good relationships and connections. Taking a new acquaintance out for lunch or just to ‘tomar algo’ is part and parcel of working life in Spain.
A 2012 study by online networking platform, LinkedIn, confirms that the Spanish are among the best connected in Europe. Over 50 percent of Spanish professionals do some form of professional networking every week. That figure rises to 59 percent among Spanish women, making them by far the most effective of Europe’s networkers. According to Darain Faraz, LinkedIn’s Communication Director, “Spanish professionals understand perfectly the importance of being related with other professionals; they know that their contact network makes them strong and relevant.”
For Ed Hamilton, a business coach and CEO of Lavalockers, it’s essential to do as the locals do. “From a cultural point of view, I do think networking is important, as Catalans put a lot of emphasis on trust, relationship building and loyalty. Networking allows you to build a sincere relationship, and once you have gained trust and loyalty, you have good opportunities here.”
Most networking in Barcelona takes place through informal lunches and tapas after work, but there are also a growing number of organised events, designed to attract like-minded people, making it easy to extend your network with minimal time investment. These events range from the business-focused, where the accent is on making business contacts, to more relaxed evenings where you could be forgiven for striking up a new friendship or two.
Not surprisingly, in a country where connecting with new people comes so naturally, networking in Spain is a more gentle affair than across the pond. The events are friendly and welcoming, and aggressive sales pitches are happily few and far between. A number of events are predominantly in English, set up by foreigners who recognise not only the value of meeting other international people, but also the difficulties a foreigner can face when they enter a society where contacts are king. Local people often have a far-reaching social and business network that goes back decades and includes family, university friends and former colleagues and clients, but the average foreigner has no such pool of people to draw on. These events help them get a head start on creating their own network, both among the local and international communities.
Barry Davis of the Spectrum IFA Group, which sponsors The Business Lunch, agrees, “Networking is about putting yourself ‘out there’ and finding people you can build trust with. Spanish networking has traditionally been strongly influenced by who you went to school with, if your families know each other and if you come from the same area. However, for international people doing business in Barcelona the system has to be different.” He points out that The Business Lunch is based on a “what goes around, comes around” principle, with attendees often introducing people to other attendees before expecting referrals themselves, helping to build the trust.
For Brian Heinen, who started the Guiri Business Network, face-to-face networking should be used hand-in-hand with online networking. “I have a philosophy called ‘The Circle of Networking’ which is: The monthly networking events should be an opportunity for members to connect and share a personality behind their LinkedIn profiles, but the majority of the development of business will continue online and in our LinkedIn Group. I realise the importance of meeting face-to-face when doing business in Spain, but some people find that social aspect more difficult and our group structure encourages people to make this interpersonal connection without the stress of being put on the spot.” For Brian, continued use of the online group throughout the month keeps up the momentum and avoids the disconnection that can otherwise happen after a networking event.
The Barcelona Women’s Network also helps foreigners connect, both socially and for business. “We have two main groups, a social network and a business network,” explains President, Marieke Severens. “Our professional networking group connects members who are entrepreneurs, professionals or job-hunting. We offer events, workshops and seminars to help move businesses forward.” The network’s monthly coffee morning is a good way to find out what the BWN is about.
No matter what your situation in Barcelona, the more people that know and trust you, the more opportunity is likely to come knocking on your door. It takes some energy to build a strong business and social circle, but put the legwork in and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits. And true to form, everything is that little bit more relaxed in Barcelona. Choose your event, enlist a friend, keep an open mind, and who knows, you may even find yourself having some fun.
The Guiri Business group is a LinkedIn group in both Madrid and Barcelona. Their monthly get-togethers (sponsored by Metropolitan in Barcelona) are friendly and attract mostly foreigners, from young entrepreneurs to more established business people.
February 25th, 7pm-9pm. Cinco Jotas, Las Arenas. Entry is free and there is a complimentary first drink. Register via the website. www.guiribusiness.com
The monthly happy hour is open to members and non-members and is a relaxed and sociable affair. February 11th, 8pm-11.30pm. Free. No registration necessary. Check website for venue. www.amersoc.com
The Business Lunch
The Business Lunch is a monthly lunch for Barcelona’s English-speaking business community. It provides an opportunity to network and promote your business with like-minded professionals in a relaxed environment.
February 19th at 1.30pm. Cost:€€35. Register via the website. www.thebizlunch.com
Barcelona Women’s Network
This monthly meeting gives members, and those interested in joining the BWN, a chance to gather together and learn more about the BWN. Coffee mornings are always followed by an inexpensive menu del dia at a nearby restaurant.
February 12th, 11am-1pm. Via Augusta 123, Atico. Free. No registration necessary. www.bcnwomensnetwork.com
See the following for upcoming events:
Red Deluxe holds regular events in beautiful locations and attracts a broad variety of locals and international people. People come for both the business and social aspect. www.reddeluxe.net
Internations is a global network with a branch in Barcelona. It is aimed at expats and holds regular networking sessions which are more social than business. www.internations.org/barcelona-expats
There are a number of business and startup networking groups on Meetup.com that get together regularly.
Improve your networking skills
Barcelona Activa offers free seminars for entrepreneurs, helping them to create a three-minute elevator pitch. Very useful if you find it hard to be succinct about what you do.
February 18th, 6pm-8pm. Signup required at: www.barcelonactiva.cat
SMOOTH OPERATOR: Five tips for successful networking in Barcelona
1. Choose your event carefully
If you’re just starting out, look for an event that seems to attract the kind of crowd that you’re interested in meeting. If you have a very specific business agenda, then find an event that attracts more experienced business people. If you just want to widen your circle and be inspired by new people, then an event that appeals to young entrepreneurs could be your best bet.
2. Know your purpose and how to communicate it
You should have an idea of what you’re trying to achieve. You should also be able to describe your business/job search or enterprise clearly in a couple of sentences. An aggressive sales pitch isn’t necessary and will just scare people off.
3. Keep an open mind
You may go to an event with a very fixed idea of the kind of person you want to meet—future business partner, clients etc.— but the chances are that you’ll meet a host of other people who could also be interesting to you and your business. Be focused, but keep an eye open for pleasant surprises.
4. Follow up your new contacts
Set aside an hour the following day to contact your new contacts via LinkedIn (if you’re not on LinkedIn, now is the time to get started). Send a quick message or email to people that you would like to meet again soon.
5. Don’t forget your business cards!
You’ll be missing out on a lot of opportunities if you don’t have cards to give out. If necessary you can get these done inexpensively online. Try www.vistaprint.es.