» Building Great Networking Relationships: Two Approaches to Try

This post is by Jennifer Reitmeyer. Jennifer has worked in the wedding industry since 1997. In addition to owning MyDeejay, an award-winning wedding entertainment firm serving the Washington, D.C. market, she also maintains a wedding business blog, WeddingIQ, and a blogging and social media service for wedding businesses, Firebrand Messaging. Jennifer is available for small business coaching, speaking, and writing opportunities. Read more at jenniferreitmeyer.com.

Last month, I wrote about the importance of earning referrals the right way.  A big part of earning referrals, though, is building quality connections in the wedding industry – something that’s often easier said than done.  Especially in markets that are saturated with wedding businesses, standing out from the crowd can be a real challenge.

So how can you build the kinds of networking relationships that lead to referrals?  There are two approaches you can take, and the one that’s right for you will depend largely on your personality, your availability, and your communication style.

Approach 1: Cast a wide net.  Many metropolitan areas offer a wealth of networking opportunities, from WeddingWire-sponsored events to industry associations to mastermind groups.  If you’re a natural-born social butterfly, this might be the right relationship-building avenue for you.

Works well if: You have plenty of availability to attend lunches and happy hours; you are comfortable with new settings and new people; you’re great at remembering names and faces; your business concept can be easily and quickly explained; you are a social media maven (and are happy to interact virtually with people before and after events!).

Not so good if: You consider yourself shy or socially awkward; your personal obligations prevent you from being able to get to events; your budget is tight (as admission fees, organization dues and drink tabs can add up!)

How to get started: Social media is your friend!  Look for Facebook pages for networking groups in your area.  Ask friends which events they’ve found helpful.  Or consider planning your own!  Partnering with other wedding business owners to host an open house or networking meeting can be a great way to make new contacts.

Don’t forget: Hit as many events as you possibly can – you want to be ubiquitous! – and make sure you follow up with everyone you meet.  A quick email, Facebook wall post or tweet after an event can go a long way toward building a connection that translates into future referrals.

Approach 2: Pick your targets and hit them one at a time.  For people seeking more in-depth connections, or whose schedule limits their availability to network, focusing on creating one-on-one relationships may be more effective.

Works well if: You’re too busy to attend a lot of evening events, but can squeeze in occasional coffee dates or lunches; you feel more comfortable talking to one person at a time; your business is a little more unusual and needs a more detailed “pitch;” you’re terrified at the idea of walking into a bar or a ballroom full of unfamiliar faces.

Not so good if: You have difficulty carrying on extended conversations; your schedule doesn’t allow you to meet during the day; you don’t have a well-crafted explanation of your business.

How to get started: Look at the people who are already in your network, even distantly – consider contacting the vendors from your recent weddings, or ask a trusted industry pro to make an introduction.

Don’t forget: It’s especially important in one-on-one meetings to focus more on the other business owner than on yourself.  Ask questions, learn about the other person’s business, and search for commonalities upon which a relationship can be built.

Of course, I’ve personally found that a combination of both approaches is most effective.  Attending larger-scale events to meet a variety of new people, and then scheduling individual meetings with particularly inspiring pros, has helped me to develop a strong core of referral sources and a wider outer circle of friendly faces.

(As a post-script, I’d strongly recommend you keep in mind that giving referrals is often the quickest route to getting referrals.  When you focus on helping others’ businesses grow, yours will almost always grow in turn.)

What do you think of Jennifer’s networking tips? Join in the discussion on the WeddingWire Pro Forum to share your questions, thoughts and own tips for building great relationships in the industry!