Ok, so think about all of the vendors you know…where did you meet them? At a wedding you worked at? At a networking event? On Twitter? Through a word-of-mouth referral? As I think about all of the wedding pros I know, I have a different story about how I connected with each individual. Some were random and chance encounters, and others were deliberate and thoughtful ways that I approached the vendor. So how do we go about expanding the current network of wedding pros that we associate with?
Not to mention, we have talked alot about collaborating with our competitors, but how about reaching out to wedding professionals outside of our specialty? Here are ten different ideas for ways you can branch out and meet more people outside of your already existing vendor network:
1. Professional Associations: This is often the most obvious and common way for people to network and seek out other vendors to build relationships with. However, just joining an association, or attending once in a blue moon will likely not produce the results you’d like if your goal is to expand your network and get your name out there. Instead, if you’re active in the association and attend regular meetings, volunteer for board positions, offer to host an event, etc. – these are the ways you will really benefit from being part of an association because you’ll be engaging with alot of vendors and you’ll likely receive a lot more exposure. A few national associations in the wedding industry you may want to check out who most likely have a local chapter near you are the Association of Bridal Consultants, NACE, and ISES. Then of course there are local associations which are more state specific that are also great ways to meet who’s who in the business.
2. Ask Another Pro: Just this week I had a Photographer contact me to ask if I could provide him with suggestions for who he should talk to in order to build his network – he wanted to know what Florists, Cake Bakers, and Venues I would recommend. Brilliant! Often times I know I find myself asking other Wedding Planners for their vendor referrals, but why not step out of our segment of the industry to see who other Photographers, Invitation Designers, and DJs would recommend we meet with?
3. Start an Informal Networking Group: Why wait for the other wedding pros in your area to seek you out? Take the lead and start a fun, casual forum where people can get together to talk shop, share ideas, and get to know new vendors. Michelle started a group in Seattle a few years ago called “Tuesday Toasts”, where anyone from the wedding industry is welcome to stop by for Happy Hour to hang out and chat with other vendors who are all interested in building community. I decided to do the same here in Dallas and start a similar group called “Thursday Therapy” where we meet for Happy Hour - afterall, the majority of us are one-man operations so it is wonderful to have a support group to get together with and chat about all things weddings. You’d be amazed at how many wedding pros will be stoked about this type of get together!
4. Peruse Magazines and Online Wedding Sites: When I first moved to Dallas a year ago, I thumbed through all of the local Dallas bridal magazines or publications where I found vendors advertising. I also searched all of the national and local wedding sites to see what vendors were out there. I was quickly was able to determine which publications fit my style and branding the most, and made a list of all of the vendors I had found who I wanted to meet with.
5. Set a Weekly Goal: For many people in the wedding industry, it’s not easy to “cold call” another vendor and set up a lunch or coffee date. Or, even if you are outgoing and don’t mind calling people you don’t know…you may not schedule in the time to meet with new vendors or make it a priority. My solution to both of these challenges is to create a “Vendor Lead Generation” spreadsheet for vendors so that you track your networking and can see your progress. For example, maybe you start with a list of 20 vendors you’d like to meet with and set a goal to meet with 5 vendors every week for the next month. This tracking spreadsheet is a great way to not only keep you accountable, but also to look back on and see how much progress you’ve made networking. Before you know it, you’ll be amazed that you have met with 100 new wedding pros and all of a sudden will be starting your very own “Thursday Therapy”! Also, please, please do not take it personally if you contact a vendor and you don’t hear back from them – that is very common, as people are busy, so just keep trekking along with your Vendor Lead Generation list and you WILL find people who will be ready and available to meet with you!
6. Social Media: If you’re not on Twitter or Facebook then you are missing out! I avoided Twitter forever because I am deep down an introvert and a pretty private person…wasn’t sure how I felt about anyone in the world being able to see what I was thinking or writing at that exact moment! Well, I decided to sign up and try it out. At first, I only watched what everyone else was saying…and didn’t truly see the value in it so I didn’t tweet at all. Of course that didn’t get me anywhere so I told myself I’d at least give it one more attempt to make it work for me, so I decided to become more active – to send more tweets, to respond to tweets, and to re-tweet. Sure enough, my network started to expand and I was chatting with all kinds of local Dallas wedding professionals I would have never met if I weren’t on Twitter. Just yesterday a group of us were tweeting about how we all like sushi so we’re going to do a girls night out soon. Again, this is a great way to build community using social media as the catalyst to get the conversations initiated and get to know people.
7. Don’t Get Comfortable! I have seen this sooo many times where vendors have “their” network and that is it. They don’t care to branch out and meet new people, they like working with the same vendors over and over at weddings, and they usually stick to themselves. In my humble opinion, these people are also missing out big time on the massive amount of talent that is available in the wedding industry today! Not to mention, besides a quality product or service, I know that all of our clients are looking for that special personality who they just “click” with. If we limit who is inside of “our” personal network then we aren’t doing our job of matching up the best vendors with the clients needs and unique personalities.
8. Take Ownership: Have you ever been in a meeting with a Photographer say, and they tell you, “Oh gosh Kelly, you should meet with ABC Floral, they are incredible artists and have very similar goals and personalities as you. I think you would really like them.” And you say, “Great, thank you so much. I will definitely contact them!” So you take the business card they give you for that vendor they just referred you to, and then you never follow up and call that professional. I am the first to admit that I do this all the time, and I know I miss out on some key relationships I could be building! Excuses aside, I know that I need to make it more of a priority to really take that information people give me and put it to use, because they are doing alot of the work for me already by giving me the lead on which vendors they trust!
9. Find a Buddy or Two: Some things are just easier to do in numbers than by ourselves. If you’re a Wedding Planner for example, call up another Wedding Planner you know and see if they want to join you and visit a Cake Tasting with you at a new bakery that’s opening. If you’re a Photographer, call up another Photographer and see if they want to check out a new venue where you could do an engagement shoot someday. When I was in Seattle, there were 4 of us Planners who got together monthly for lunch and would meet at a restaurant that we hadn’t been to that would be a potential venue for a rehearsal dinner. Great way not only to connect with other colleagues but also to increase your knowledge of what vendors/venues are available for your clients!
10. Have Fun! Not all of the above ideas appeal to everyone, so be sure to find one that you think would be fun and just try it out! If you’re having fun while you’re at it, then it won’t feel like work…which is really a common goal we all share, right? So go ahead, call, email, text, tweet, or friend someone on facebook and have fun expanding your network! And, be sure to tell us about your success stories!