This article was written by Kevin Dennis, editor of WeddingIQ.
The illustrious preferred vendor list is something that, as business owners, we all strive to be on. The exclusivity and third party validation is very appealing, not to mention the leg up it can give you against competition. So the question is, how do you get on it and stay on it? I’m sharing some of my best practices when it comes to approaching the subject.
Never ask immediately
Asking a fellow creative partner if you can get on their preferred list right out of the gate is probably the biggest mistake you can make. Would you want someone you just met five minutes ago asking you for a favor? No, probably not.
As I like to tell people- it’s not that far off from dating. You need to go in with the mindset that things take time. So how do you develop a relationship over time?
- Attend industry events. Take the time to revisit what options you have in the area- be it WIPA, NACE, ILEA or organizations. Mark your calendar accordingly and make note of who attends. Better yet- if one of your targets is hosting or sponsoring a meeting make it a priority to be there.
- With the above in mind, consider leadership and volunteer roles within the organizations. It’s one thing to attend and network, but the ROI will be far more considerable if you carve out time to give back and get to know your industry peers in more intimate settings.
- Include them on your mailing list. We love celebrating obscure holidays with our clients and creative partners so add them to your mailing list for the next time National Scallop Day rolls around.
Once you have gotten to know them more on a professional (or even personal) level, bring the subject up in a more general way. For example, ask them how they choose who to put on their list, or how often they refresh it. That way you are getting the intel you want without directly asking them to consider you.
Be open to feedback
I’ll never forget when I met one of the top caterers in town for the first time. I was new to the industry and didn’t know what I was doing at networking events- and it showed! I approached my newfound colleague and she was quick to give me a laundry list of things I needed to work on- all the way down to the baseball cap I needed to stop wearing to events.
She was well intentioned so I took her advice to heart and over the next year, I implemented many of her thoughts. Over time, we built a strong partnership and that very caterer has since become one of my top referrals.
Get to know the other creative partners
Sit down and take a look at the list(s) you want to be a part of, and take note of the other creative partners on it that you may already know or would like to get to know. The local events community is a small one, and your relationships with people can make all the difference. If you’re close to someone that is well connected, and they respect your reputation, they may recommend you the next time a vacancy on a preferred list comes up. This has been my secret weapon for years.
One of the best ways to stay connected is online, especially as wedding season ramps up. We make a point to highlight our colleagues in an ongoing feature on our blog, in which we interview creative partners from around the region. We make it easy by creating a simple form, and the response has been positive.
Remember the key time to shine
It’s easy to forget in the middle of the hustle and bustle of an event that how you interact with other creative partners is key. Treat it like a job interview. Above all, be a team player and don’t be demanding. Help out where you can and be a problem solver. Follow up after the event and ask for feedback. Ultimately, it comes down to being the type of wedding professional that people want to recommend.
Don’t take it for granted
If and when you are added to the preferred list, don’t get too comfortable. Several places will update theirs at least once a year, and if they barely remember who you are or have been in close contact with someone else, you can easily be replaced. Small gestures can be a fun and creative way to keep your business at the top of their minds.
We love to implement the surprise and delight strategy by sending funny notes and trinkets to our creative partner friends that will put a smile on their face. Last summer, during a particular hot spell, we even traveled around delivering popsicles to many of our colleagues.
Don’t let the idea of trying to get on a preferred vendor list scare you. With the right approach businesses will be adding you in no time.
Kevin Dennis is the editor of WeddingIQ and owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services, a full-service event company based in Livermore, California. Dennis is the current chapter president for Silicon Valley NACE, and a past national president for WIPA.