Two months have passed since the beginning of the EASI Canadian mission in search of a SmartSales partner in Quebec, and several useful lessons were learned along the way. Montreal is a business hub, especially for IT companies, and as any city, has its own codes and difficulties. Here are some useful tips to keep in mind before launching an export project in Montreal!
1 – Plan carefully
This point can never be stressed enough: planning is key to the success of any international business trip! Try to do as much as possible at home, for once you land in Montreal, you will have other matters at hand.
Prepare carefully your strategy, call as many prospective partners as possible, set appointments with useful agencies (Chambers of commerce, state agencies helping import/export, etc.)
Often overlooked, do not underestimate the key role your colleagues will play: make sure that the people you will need are aware of where you are going and why you are going. Smooth communications with your people at home are key to the success of your business trip!
2 – Be honest
One might think that Montreal and a Western European country such as Belgium are culturally close. Sure, Wallonia and Montreal have in common a language and some elements of history.
Yet when it comes to business, it is important to remind yourself that things can be done very differently. At a crossroad between the American and the French ways, the businesspeople in Montreal have their own way of doing things. Directness when talking business is key to any business relationship: promises are always nice, but tangible facts and figuresare expected. Prospects will want to know what is your project, how much it will cost, and what are the benefits for them. Keep in mind that prospective partners will be open to any project, while being very honest about their personal interest once they have been pitched about it. If needed, accept refusal and move on: insistence will lead nowhere. Fast-paced and tech-savvy, Montreal is a paradise for start-ups and original projects. Do not hesitate to dare! Montreal businesspeople like originality and new ideas. Drop the scripted presentations and adapt, and finding a company willing to partner with you shall be within your reach.
3 – Go out
Montreal is a village, especially business-wise. As much as they like innovation, Quebec businesspeople like to know to whom they are talking. Therefore, meeting people is crucial! Networking is the backbone of any business project in Montreal. The best way to expand your network, make acquaintances and make yourself known is to take part to a “5@7”. Most of the networking events take place from 5pm to 7pm every evening, hence the name. If your goal is to find a partner or new prospects in Montreal, attending 5@7 is the way. Most of them are open to the public, and can be found on websites such as "Eventbrite" or "montreal5a7".
Another useful way to meet people is through a coworking space. There are dozens of them in Montreal, for every taste, every sector and every need. It is a good way not to work alone, to get a fee of the business atmosphere and expand your network. Who knows, your dream partnership might come to life thanks to the people working in front of you!
4 – Keep an open mind
Business opportunities might arise from unsuspected places. Your neighbour who works in software editing knows someone who knows someone, your barista working in this coffee place you like, while launching their start-up,…
Moreover, keep in mind that some sectors or businesses, which might be frowned upon or disdained at home, are thriving in the very open-minded business hub of Montreal. Software companies working in the medical cannabis sector, “Women in business” networks, a LGBT chamber of commerce,… Tolerance and equality are a way of life in Montreal, hence the crucial importance of silencing any implicit prejudice and being careful of insensitive comments or reaction in order for your trip to be successful.
Keeping an open mind also consists in being able to question yourself. Despite the best planning possible, do not stick obstinately to the strategy: things change fast in Montreal, and adaptation is crucial.
5 – Think long-term
Weaving a network of people around you takes time, for trust needs to be built. Meet as much prospects as possible, make yourself and your project known. The strategy might work as expected, and you might come back with several prospective partners interested in your project. The target market might also reveal some unsuspected elements that jeopardizes your complete strategy, and things might not go as planned. Use this opportunity to learn as much as you can from the businesspeople here, who know the market better than any external analysis.
Remember that Montreal, Quebec and even Canada must be thought as long-term goals for you company. The one-shot strategy will not work well in a city where business partnerships are built on relationships and trust. Quebecois business people like to have someone “at home”, in person, someone from their partner company working in Quebec. International businesses are welcome, but only if they really commit and take root in “La Belle Province”.
Long-term thinking, slow relationship building and proximity are key to your success in a business partnership in Montreal! Good luck!