Too many people think that professional networking is nothing more than an excuse for lunch out of the office, a happy hour with friends or a trip out of town to an industry event on the company dime. There, we said it. One of many elephants in the room, boardroom or dining room if that's where you conduct your business, creating productive business relationships needs to be done with clear intention. Having the right mind set and motivation when building your network can reap incredible rewards for both your business and your professional reputation.
Who, What and When
In many markets there can be multiple wedding and events industry associations and networking groups. "Difficult" doesn't begin to describe any attempt to attend all of their events, never mind the costs that would go along with it. Doing a little bit of homework up front will help target the right ones that can be the most beneficial for your business.
First, consider each group's overall mission. Focus on those that are inclusive of your business category and support your particular business objectives. Then, look at who's attending. Are they people you do business with on a regular basis or people who are able to refer you more business if you cultivate a positive business relationship them? What is the topic or purpose of that particular industry event? Is it something that will help you grow as a professional? Lastly, consider the 'when'. Just as you should be with every other aspect of your business, you need to take a hard look at the value of every networking event. Are you taking time away from other activities that directly impact your business's success? If the benefits are suspect, it's okay to pass and put your limited time and energy toward those things that will create the earliest impacts to your business.
We all know the age-old adage about first impressions. How you show up to networking events or meetups will set the tone not only for your own experience of the event but for every introduction and conversation you have. Dress the part. Look like you're there to represent your brand in the most positive light. Look like you're there with a purpose, to meet fellow driven professionals and create real relationships with value. Unless "Club Night" is your brand, don't treat these particular nights out like one. And, be prepared: practice your "elevator speech" about your business and pack plenty of business cards.
Wallflowers. We all know at least one, and we probably don't have to think back to our last dance in junior high school. They're the people who hang off to the side all by themselves and never engage. Find your confidence to be present at these events. Don't seek to dominate the conversation, but to join in . Find the appropriate times to jump into the conversations seamlessly so that your introduction and what you have to offer to them is welcome and fits comfortably.
Maps are meant to help you find the best (or, maybe, most interesting) route from point A to B. Likewise, a list of fellow event attendees can help you make the best use of your time. Check the organization's Eventbrite or Facebook page event to see who else is coming. You can use this info to identify a handful of key pros you'd benefit from through a professional connection. Don't hesitate to ask the check-in crew if the people you're looking forward to meeting have arrived yet. Remember: these are networking groups. Their primary function is to connect attendees with one another. That’s what makes them work.
The work doesn't end with the last hand shake before you head home from the luncheon or mixer. Take that stack of business cards and, with your mental notes from the evening still fresh in your mind, jot them down by name. Then, set apart some time for personalized follow-up emails in the next 48 hours. A friendly reintroduction with a unique reflection of your initial meeting can go a long way in setting a positive tone for your new business relationships. You never know what new opportunities can come of it!
Build Productive Business Relationships
Like any other kind, business relationships take work. You can't expect to show up at one networking event and leave dripping in referrals. Just like that first phone call after a first date, "following up" is only the first step. For those whose work you believe in, find their social media feeds, start following and interact with their posts. Subscribe to their blogs and podcasts, and refer your own fans and followers to them. Make yourself vulnerable and ask for their guidance in your own business. Last but certainly not least, refer them when appropriate. Sooner or later, they'll see you referred them with no strings attached and, more than likely, return the favor.
When you're looking to build equity with other professionals, the Gary Vaynerchuk boxing analogy applies: "jab, jab, jab, right hook." Translated to building business relationships, it reads "give, give, give, ask." Offer your services with a photo shoot or in supporting a charity event they might be involved in. Look for opportunities to work on the same industry event or association committee. An intentional approach to networking and building productive business relationships requires that you look at them just as you would any initiative to promote and market your business. Identify the opportunity, ensure it works toward your objectives, know and accept the investment, and commit to it. If you've shown an earnest interest and your work is recognized for it, it will be rewarded.
Hero photo courtesy Ring Thing Events and Brandi McComb Photography