Lochaber Chamber of Commerce shares their experience of leading their first virtual trade missions to Nova Scotia.

What do you picture when you think of an international trade mission? People in smart business outfits milling around at a networking event? Visits to meet prospective clients in unfamiliar cities in unfamiliar countries? A week away from your business and family? Costs of flights and accommodation?

Well, it wasn’t how we planned it; but necessity is the mother of invention and like many other Chambers across the network, our planned Trade Mission to Nova Scotia in Canada rapidly transformed into our first ever ‘Virtual Trade Mission to Nova Scotia’!

The word ‘pivot’ must be one of the most suddenly overused of 2020 – but that’s exactly what we did in order to ensure that the trade mission could still go ahead to help our delegates explore new opportunities and make connections in a new international market. Without even leaving their house!

It can be daunting for an individual business to try to find the right contacts independently – being part of a mission and getting specialist help makes it all so much easier for businesses.

The Lochaber Chamber team identified potential business connections for our Scottish delegates, allowing them to explore new business opportunities and make those all-important personal connections that will hopefully prove beneficial to them and to the businesses in Nova Scotia.

The connections between Nova Scotia and Scotland run deep, and this cultural and social current across the Atlantic gives us something a little bit special when building new business connections to benefit both countries. But these connections aren’t just about the past – Nova Scotia has a vibrant economy across a range of sectors and is the gateway to Atlantic Canada and beyond, with huge opportunities for Scottish companies.

Such was the demand from Scottish businesses to visit Nova Scotia virtually that Lochaber Chamber of Commerce has now run two virtual trade missions to Nova Scotia over September and November, with 8 businesses taking part in the first trip and 11 joining us for the November mission.

Eilidh MacDonald, of Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, who planned and led the Nova Scotia virtual trade missions, found the change to hosting the events virtually opened up a whole new range of opportunities for the wide variety of Scottish businesses who signed up:

“I would say that the virtual aspect of the trade mission was really positive – it gave people a lot more flexibility in the timing of one-to-one business meetings and allowed companies to connect with businesses over a much larger area of the province.”

As Eilidh says, “Running two trade missions gave us more time to get to know our key contacts and these relationships helped us to put together a great programme for the delegates. Forging these connections with the business community in different parts of Nova Scotia will also make it a lot easier to plan a really great ‘in person’ mission in summer 2021.”

Lochaber Chamber was delighted that the delegates on the virtual mission were welcomed along by Honourable Geoff MacLellan, Minister of Business in Nova Scotia and Catriona Little, Head of the Scottish Government in Canada. Honourable Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, Minister of Community Culture and Heritage also joined us for the Market Awareness session and gave a valuable insight into Canadian culture.

We were really pleased to secure the kind co-operation of staff teams from Nova Scotia Intergovernmental Affairs, Nova Scotia Business Incorporation, Cape Breton Chamber of Commerce, Cape Breton Partnership, Halifax Chamber of Commerce, and Halifax Partnership, who were all incredibly helpful and generous with their time in helping us arrange the best targeted B2B meetings for our delegates.

Over the course of the week-long mission, the delegates took part in a minimum of six one-to-one virtual business meetings with specially selected contacts and learned about the realities of trading into Nova Scotia with informative market awareness briefings, specialist tax and law drop-ins, and business overviews.

The delegates on both missions were drawn from a wide variety of businesses throughout Scotland – from gin and whisky distilleries, technology, life sciences and energy companies to skin care, a specialist watchmaker and even a company that makes robotic falcons for bird pest control.

Establishing the needs of such varied groups of delegates and identifying suitable connections in Nova Scotia took a lot of work and we’ve benefited from the expertise of both our contacts in Nova Scotia and of our trade advisor, Allan Hogarth of AH Strategies who helped us hugely in making connections.

So, what are our top tips for making the most of joining a virtual trade mission? Eilidh advises delegates to get stuck into all aspects of the programme: “We know it can be hard to make time to join zoom calls when you’re busy running your business but do try to join in with the group events as much as you can. This really does help to make connections, giving you valuable information about trading in the country you’re visiting and a feel for the culture. It also helps you to get to know others on the trip and key contacts from the business and governmental agencies in Nova Scotia.”

Lynne Hunter, Director of Glasgow-based technology company Scotapps (a progressive web app development company) joined our November virtual trade mission and found the experience extremely worthwhile.

“The virtual trade mission completely exceeded my expectations – I went in thinking I would establish some good foundations for future opportunities but that it would just be the first step in a long process. However, through the business meetings I didn’t just make immediate business relationships, I actually changed my whole business model for trading into Canada and have now recruited two agents to sell my products in the Canadian market! If you’re thinking about trying a virtual mission, I would definitely say to go for it. You never know where it will take you!”

All of the 19 companies who visited Nova Scotia virtually on the missions have seen positive results from the experience and we’re excited to hear more about the companies’ progress in the future. Lochaber Chamber is planning an in-person trade mission to Nova Scotia in June 2021 and we look forward to taking many of our virtual delegates out to Canada for real!

If you’re interested in exploring international trade opportunities for your business, have a look at the range of different virtual trade missions on offer at www.exporthubscotland.com.