If you have been in the wedding and events industry for more than a minute you've more than likely been to a networking event. Our industry has a number of associations, some with international reach while others are focused on their local markets. Finding the right one for you and your business takes a little work.
Your first step might be to take a look at what groups are most active in your particular area. This can vary from state to state and city to city. Ask a colleague or two about industry associations and you will get a great cross section of answers. Some of the most visible associations in the wedding industry are:
Additionally, when you begin to look at corporate events and meetings, the list grows exponentially. There are associations specific to caterers, DJs, photographers and rental companies. This LinkedIn article touches on the benefits for you and your business by attending association meetings and conferences. Here is some practical advice to get you started in joining industry associations and attending networking events.
Most local chapters allow you to attend a meeting as a guest. However, the rules surrounding that differ for association to association. Some have rules about how many times you can attend before becoming a member. Additionally, guests typically pay a higher fee for events than you do as a member.
Goal of Networking
Ultimately, what you're looking to get out of networking may be the deciding factor in which association might be best for you. If you are a wedding planner and looking for education, then Association of Bridal Consultants might be a good fit. If you are looking to interact and grow your relationships with other professionals you can refer clients to, the National Association of Catering & Events could be a good fit.
Put Your Self Out There
Unfortunately, one complaint people often have is that local association chapters can be cliquey. This is not necessarily true. While people who have long standing relationships know each other and work together, breaking in can be as easy or as hard as you make it. Attending an association meeting is your goal, your marketing and your money, so don’t waste it. Show up prepared, armed with your own plan for success. Be sure to check the associations local social media page. Find a friend who might be going and connect with them before the meeting. They can introduce you to other colleagues.
Dress professionally! If you don't dress professionally, people will not take you professionally. Be sure to take plenty of business cards and do not be afraid to give them to people you meet. But, be sure to ask for their business card as well. And, absolutely follow up with people you meet. Too many people drop the ball by not following up with an email or a handwritten note. Restrain yourself. While that might sound counterproductive it will pay off in the end. Being too pushy asking someone how to get on their vendor list might turn them off. Additionally, it can be really tempting to eat and drink your money’s worth. It can be hard to network with an hors d’oeuvre in one hand and a cocktail in the other. More importantly, over indulging runs the risk of destroying your business; people will talk.
Come Back Soon
It isn't uncommon to hear "I went to the meeting, did all the right things and never got any business from anyone." Keep in mind that building your network takes time. You're there to build productive relationships. No matter how wrapped up you might in the latest binge-able Netflix series, get yourself out there and attend events on a regular basis to keep you and your business at the top of their minds.
After joining, get involved! You build the best relationships when you are working as part of a small team; and members can see your talent and teamwork. Join a committee, offer to help with setup at the next meeting or look into the group's non-profit arm to see how you can lend a hand.
The novelist Franz Kafka wrote: “Association with fellow human beings lures one into self-observation.” This is wonderful advice. While attending your first few networking events, look around the room and see who the key players are. How people are dressed? Are they wearing business name tags? What do their business cards look like? Then take a look inward. Is your branding on point? Do you dress the part? Are you putting yourself out there? Take some time to find the association that has a strong local presence. Make sure it's a good fit for your business needs. Then, put yourself out there to build strong, productive business relationships.