Looking for ways to expand your business? Ever thought about broadening your horizon beyond the Netherlands? You might want to consider joining on a trade mission organised by your national or local government. A highly recommended tool used by many SMEs that already deal with business partners abroad.
Veroniek Maat, social entrepreneur, founder of Accessible Travel Netherlands and member of Impact Hub Amsterdam reflect on her trade mission to Baltimore organised by Amsterdam Trade last March 2016.
In this article both entrepreneur and trade mission organiser shed light on the questions ‘how to generate the maximum return on a trade mission’, and ‘why it is so important to be endorsed by your local government during such efforts?’
Peter de Kruijk, Director at Amsterdam Trade – Amsterdam’s new trade organization; a cooperation of Amsterdam, Amstelveen, Almere, Haarlemmermeer, Zaanstad and the province of North Holland – organises trade missions, and works in close collaboration with local SMEs and a multitude of international trade partners ranging from Taiwan to Munich, and from Japan to Baltimore.
During an interview session at Impact Hub Amsterdam, we hear Veroniek and Peter give voice to their experience on how to match offer with demand, about the importance of personal relationship building and reaching out beyond our borders.
Key insight: it’s up to you how successful your mission turns out.
With 60% of Veroniek’s clients in the USA, both great representations of Accessible Travel Netherlands -offering travel planning for a growing market of travellers with a disability- and partnerships with specialised travel agencies outside of the Netherlands are essential.
Peter’s main challenges come forth from gaining the balance concerning success that Amsterdam already books in attracting international talent and companies, with an equal share of representation of Amsterdam’s finest entrepreneurs abroad. Amsterdam Trade taps into a hidden demand under SMEs and facilitates this underlying drive towards innovation and international trade.
“Select your top 10-to-meet, and then head out to one of the many pre-organised congresses and events.”
Both found each other during the latest trade mission to Baltimore USA, where new partnerships are made, key players were met and in a short time, networks grew. So where should you focus on to generate the biggest impact while on a trade mission?
Speak and meet with as many people as possible
Nothing new, but cold calling major new prospects and future partners prove to have little success. Still its one of the hard lessons also Veroniek learned with her boots-on-the-ground experience. One of the benefits of trade missions organised by Amsterdam Trade is that all of them come with a guest list beforehand. Now, how to use it. Veroniek: “Pay attention to this list of participants first. Select your top 10-to-meet, and then head out to one of the many pre-organised congresses and events. It helps to use both your list as the richly scheduled programme as a framework for your meetings.”
One of the biggest advantages of being on a trade mission organised by the city is that you come under the name of that mission. This way you enter conversations in a different matter, then being solely represented by your company name. Once you can claim that you are visiting on behalf of the Amsterdam region you are already one step ahead.
“All participants are seen as representatives of the city, which helps to set out the conversation based on trust. It also generates an instant advantage.” according to Peter.
Results? Veroniek met with the National Federations of the Blind, which showed high interest in Accessible Travel Netherlands and now endorsed her business. In a casual manner, a relationship has been built with the local Office of Disability during a conversation with the Mayor office. Veroniek: “Such meetings were possibly out of reach for me if the City of Amsterdam didn’t accompany me.”
All events took place during Baltimore’s Light Festival, where the Clipper ‘Stad Amsterdam’ was docked and functioned as one of the meeting places for all participants of the trade mission. Yes, such an eye-catcher and universal symbol of commerce indeed also helps to impress your partners.
Determine beforehand what success means
Closing new deals? Building relationship? Or, field study? What is it that determines your success during the hectic and multitude of opportunities?
Veroniek, “It indeed offers many possibilities to meet new clients, to expand your network in a short time, and many serendipitous chances, but it is up to you and your tactics to achieve a successful mission. “My focus was to maintain and strengthen existing relationships and to look for new partners. Here being an Impact Hub member in Amsterdam helped me to make new connections via the global Impact Hub network, which enables me to find already and plan some visits before I head out to Baltimore.”
Key insight: Do you look to close a deal on the spot? Start with building trust. Plan ahead, and set up the first contact with your international partners by e-mail or via Skype. Outline the intentions of the collaboration beforehand, and seek to decide on the details in while you meet later on in person.
Making direct acquisition is possible, though just one of the options that span between a theoretical level with market exploration and fact-finding, till to a functional level with decision-making and contract signings. ” Amsterdam’s foreign missions used to be organized with a focus on acquisition between corporates and government-to-government. More and more new themes are added such as innovation, sports or culture. The focus on SMEs during the mission is the final beat on the chain of complete city promotion abroad – through international trade.
Beside a thematic approach to the frame, the mission Amsterdam Trade offers a set of services to facilitate your success. Ranging from specific matchmaking with local business, seminars, and lunch sessions to investment seminars. “To load each mission with value for and by SMEs, we focus on a particular theme. In this case ‘Smart Lightning’ set the tone. The theme is leading and helps us in the invitation process to determine which local decision-makers abroad need to receive an invitation.”, according to Peter.
Contacts travel a long way
‘Doing business at home is already hard enough’ is often heard under entrepreneurs as a common objection for international expansion. Veroniek claims the opposite. “Partaking on the mission is one and important on its own. Surprisingly, being surrounded with fellow entrepreneurs and local governmental staff supported me after the trip. Where I find it now much easier to find my way in our Dutch landscape of regulations and opportunities.”
Results? Via Amsterdam Trade and Veroniek’s enriched network opened doors to decision-makers of multinationals and towards Amsterdam Marketing. And among others, she has been inspired to pro-actively approach new hotel chains, to deliver advice on accessibility during the project development phase of a new hotel building, this opened a new market area for Accessible Travel Netherlands.
Peter: “Amsterdam Trade takes upon it the role to open up all information and the many opportunities for SMEs regarding international trade within the Amsterdam region. We strive to reach a level of personal brokering for all entrepreneurs that engage with us; this will help us facilitate better both the matchmaking between Dutch entrepreneurs going abroad and international corporates looking for Amsterdam’s SME talent.”
- For more information on Accessible Travel Netherlands see here.
- For SMEs based in the Metropolitan area of Amsterdam. See here to find more information on trade missions by Amsterdam Trade and Amsterdam InBusiness.
- Are you an entrepreneur looking to expand your network, to find a home base and to grow your skills? See Impact Hub Amsterdam. For international startups, we offer full startup visa facilitation.