Networking is a huge buzz word in the wedding industry. We all know that it is literally impossible to build a wedding industry business without a network of local professionals who support and refer you.
When I started in the wedding industry 12 years ago, everything was different. Cell phones were just entering the scene. Most businesses were still listing themselves in the printed yellow pages. As technology evolved, so did the “rules” and “reasons” behind networking. Technology created a new means for staying or getting connected with your vendor partners. But it also brought with it a mixed bag of new etiquette and rules for success while networking.
Here’s the great part. The power and effectiveness of networking is still alive and well. The benefits of networking never changed! They will remain the same forever!
I stand firm in my belief that networking is the single most valuable way for a new company to spend their time. Get out there. Meet people. Make friends and connections. Begin considering ways that you can work with them in collaboration. Follow up with the people you meet.
But what many people in our tech driven world are forgetting is the power of your network.
A happy client or a successful client can produce at maximum around 4-6 refers. And that’s reaching. Mom, Bride, Groom, Maid of Honor, and the random MIL and Dad.
While we all want happy clients, what we really NEED is happy vendor partners. Because that secures many more referrals to many more potential clients. And not only that…. when you find your referral sweet spot, you’re receiving referrals that match your ideal client! There’s SO much more value in taking care of your vendor partners! Those are referrals that last and last!
So let’s answer the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of networking!
When you’re first starting out you may think that meeting all the people is your plan. You want to get your face in front of as many people as possible! But let’s talk about something for a minute. Should a brand new wedding professional expect to receive referrals from a vendor partner whose been in business for 20 years? I mean you just shared a cocktail… they should be your bestie right? NOPE!
You planted a seed and now you have to wait for that relationship to grow and mature. You are likely going to have to do some weddings successfully and let your reputation speak for itself before you’re referred by veteran vendors.
By targeting the relationships you look to create, you’ll be creating an easier entry to the marketplace. Find people whose clients are similar to yours. Look for people whose style compliments your own. You may even want to look for people who are in the same life stage you are in. This allows you to have an easier connection with a qualified group of people.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t say this… You do not have to like or work with everyone! You only have to be kind and professional. So if a vendors style or personality isn’t a fit… move along. It’s not going to end your business!
There’s a few rules for what to do when you’re meeting new vendors. But the best advice you’ll ever hear is simply this… BE YOURSELF, BE KIND, BE HONEST. You’ve likely already experienced an encounter with someone whose poop doesn’t stink. Or the person who clearly over states their success. Or you know… any and all of those things. Here’s what you should do while in a networking situation.
- Listen and Watch: Look at who’s spending time together. Look at the faces of the people as they interact. Listen for real conversation and real connections and do your best to follow suite.
- Remember: If you talked to someone last time… remember their name and business and what you talked about. Ask about their son’s graduation or the wedding with the crazy MOG. By remembering them you show that you valued your previous conversations.
- Follow Up: Events are great… but they aren’t as effective if you don’t take the time to email the people you met and continue the relationship. In years gone by, I used to go home and write notes on the cards of the people I’d met. I’d star the ones that were of specific interest to follow up with immediately. The next day I’d put the cards in order and reach out to the 3 people a day. Starting with the ones I wanted to impress the most.
- Mention: If you meet someone for coffee, hang out at their studio, sneeze in their lunch…. whatever you do with a potential vendor partner… shout them out. Even if one of your clients is meeting with them! Tag on instagram, mention on Facebook, snap and share their business info. Trust me… it will make ALL of the difference! Calling them out in a positive way only boosts the relationship you’re building!
- Check In: Vendor partners are people too! Check in on them during personal times. A tough day, a sick family member, a new baby, or anything that may be affecting them. Being present and authentic in life outside of business is just as important (if not more) than seeing them all dressed up at the Knot Party.
Networking takes time. We all know that. Setting an intention to network can be a huge strain on your time. But it really doesn’t have to be that hard. Use the tools you already have at your disposal to continue to build your network.
Create an automated email reach out. Maybe it’s like a super cool connection newsletter you send once a month… not a creepy salesy gross email. Use your powers wisely here. What will they open? What are you hoping to achieve? Think this through before ever pushing send.
What do you do when you send a referral to a fellow vendor? Hope the client will tell them? Nope! Send a quick email or FB message and let them know who you’ve sent with a little information about the potential client. A quick DM will make their day and keep you on their mind! Also, you never know if your client will properly share who referred them.
There’s this cool thing called Starbucks and they let you send coffee goodness to people over the internet. Yep. It’s a thing. Even better. Pair with a local florist or gifting company to send something to someone each month. Make it part of your marketing budget. I promise it will pay off!
Now, if your market is anything like mine there’s more networking events and associations than you could ever possibly attend. That’s why selecting the proper WHERE is important.
You and your business DO NOT belong at every event. I said it. You also don’t belong in all of the organizations. Because they solve different problems. They serve different people and the education and the attendees lean one direction or the other.
Select the WHERE by considering these things:
- Who do you need to connect with? Is it venues or caterers? Then maybe a NACE luncheon is the place for you. Are you trying to get the ear of the coolest videographer in town? Maybe it’s that Knot party he’s on the planning committee for? Maybe you’d like to branch your rentals out to corporate events? Then ILEA might be your choice. Evaluate the people you’d like to meet and attend those events specifically.
- Who do I want to meet? Where are your people hanging out? Is it that after party you really need to be at in order to cozy up to that popular photographer. Hang out where the people you want to meet are hanging out. It’s not rocket science here.
- Who can you help? There comes a time where you are an equally beneficial person to meet. So selecting a meeting where you can support and be of service to the other attendees is a great idea!
Aside from referrrals, as mentioned above, networking has so many fabulous rewards… if you do it right. Imagine if you had a black book of people who can help you grow your business. This is why networking is so incredibly important.
Recognition and residency is my main focus when I head out to network. The more I show up over the years the more easily I am recognized. It’s that simple. And the more recognizable you are the more established your business becomes.
Because I’ve spent time investing in building relationships over the years, I now have amazing resources available to me. The florist or rental company that steps up when it’s time for a stylized shoot or collaboration. The vendors that provided all of my needs for a funeral at no cost. Or the connections you have to solve problems in your business because you showed up! The resources available to you become the most valuable asset your business owns.
Do you look at the work you’ve put into building your network as an insurance plan? You should. There was a day when my cell phone was my wedding day disaster life line. If anything went awry, I had a phone full of people I knew I could count on to help! Being able to rely on your vendor partners for last minute emergencies is the biggest bonus of building a strong network!
And now… last but certainly not least is HOW!
Thankfully, this is actually the easiest part.
You just have to DO!
Literally! It’s that easy!
Show up! Think carefully about where you want to be and make an intention to be there. Put in the time to send the connection emails. Plan to use marketing dollars to surprise and delight your vendor partners! It will make all of the difference…. I PROMISE!
Don’t know the steps to follow? Cool. You can grab this handy guide to Building a Better Network in 5 Days! Better plan? Do one of these each week. Seriously it only takes you 15 minutes.
Now get to work!!