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January 29, 2010

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IT might be daunting for newcomers in Shanghai who must start over, building up new social and business networks. But help is at hand, as more and more groups specialize in networking parties and skills. Sam Riley connects with a guru.

Whether they come from Chinese cities or across the world, Shanghai's newest residents are confronted with the daunting task of building a social network and usually business connections in the city of 18.88 permanent residents.

In recent years many network-focused organizations have sprung up to help people make contacts, build a client base, a customer base and make friends, even find partners.

For many new arrivals who have come from their own established circle of friends and business associates, starting over is the basic challenge starting a new life.

"Many of us have never done networking before we came to Shanghai," says Alex Cureton-Griffiths, a self-titled "networking guru" who runs a training company that teaches how to develop networking skills.

"For many of us, networking was just something for dodgy people in cheap suits who were trying to make a cheap buck," he says. "None of us start with much experience, you just have to throw yourself in, find out as much as you can, don't be afraid and get out there."

Cureton-Griffiths runs a Website, Shanghai Networking News, that lists upcoming events and gives tips on networking topics. He also conducts networking training for companies and individuals.

This include workshops, group sessions and one-on-one coaching in which he goes out with a client to do some real-time networking.

In addition to numerous national chambers of commerce, which are natural networking centers, there are around a dozen networking groups in the city. Some are industry/sector-focused, some niche groups focus on people from a given area or they have a particular business angle.

Big chambers of commerce naturally dominate and draw on extensive databases of companies and industry experts. They typically attract an older crowd, middle- to upper-management level, says Cureton-Griffiths.

Newcomers are also attracted as chambers typically advise on doing business in China and events can represent a good mix.

An alternative to chambers are business-focused groups like Next Step.

Established in 2007 to help entrepreneurs swap ideas and information, the group runs popular networking events on every second Tuesday.

Next Step cofounder Joseph Constanty says the monthly meetings feature a speaker providing specialized information on a particular topic for 20 minutes, and then it's open to questions and networking.

Events used to be larger, with as many as 150 people, but the idea is to be more targeted and attract 50 to 60 people.

For those who want business network, Constanty says it is important to have realistic expectations of what can be established through a single organization or event.

"The most successful people at networking are the ones that are the most outgoing and are prepared to listen to other people's ideas and concepts," Constanty says. "You have to understand who you will be meeting there, and the most successful people are the ones who realize that in a room of 100 people or potential customers they only need to meet one to make it a success."

While Next Step focuses on an entrepreneurial niche, one of the biggest business-networking organizations is the Fortune Connection Club (FC Club) that has more than 48,000 members in chapters in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

The club, which started eight years ago, has held more than 350 events typically attracting professionals between 20 and 40 years old.

FC claims more than 80 percent of its members are either heads of companies' national branches, department leaders or senior managers.

FC events cover multiple topics, businesses and industries - from marketing and media to supply chain and logistics. It provides career advice and attracts headhunters and human resources managers looking for talent.

Then, there's socializing and social networking.

Oriented is a club that creates a relaxed and informal social environment to facilitate networking.

Participants are typically bilingual, mid-career, Western-trained professionals, and functions usually attract between 30 and 60 people.

"Oriented attracts people because it is very small and you don't have to force yourself to give your name card," says Oriented's head organizer Josephine Park. "You usually know the organizers in person and we don't have the busiest atmosphere. It is an easygoing, chilled-out kind of mood."

Oriented holds events on the last Thursday of every month. Admission is 100 yuan (US$14.65) at the door, 50 yuan if pre-booked.

The Shanghai chapter belongs to network of Oriented clubs in 12 cities, including Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.

Another group focusing on bilingual social networking is the OK Deal club, focusing on Chinese and expats and running everything from social events and weekend getaways to speed dating.

There's a weekly bilingual salsa party at Mural Bar and weekly single's social networking.

OK Deal also runs a monthly business mixer.

The club says that the social networking events usually attract young professionals between the ages of 24 and 40, while the business mixers draw those from their late 20s to 60 or so.

"Networking guru" Cureton-Griffiths says people shouldn't focus exclusively on networking events to make contacts.

Joining social, hobby or sports groups for people with shared interest can be just as effective in building both a social or business network quickly, he says.

But whether it be an organized event, a business organization, sporting club or just bumping into people on a night out, Cureton-Griffiths says it's important to focus.

"People should emphasize quality over quantity. It isn't how many people you talk to or how many cards you collect, it's the quality of the relationships you build," he says.

For more networking information and events, check,, and

For events and networking tips at Alex Cureton-Griffiths' Shanghai Networking News, go to


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