» The Secret to Earning a Spot on a Venue’s Referral List

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.

Many wedding venues maintain their own referral lists of preferred vendors, and getting on those lists can feel like finding the proverbial “golden ticket” when it comes to more inquiries and more sales. As a bonus, when a venue you love is sending business your way, you get the pleasure of returning again and again – you know the layout, the load-in procedures and the staff, and that makes your job that much easier.

The Secret to Earning a Spot on a Venue’s Referral ListSo what’s the secret to getting on a venue’s referral list? Here are some secrets that have worked for my business, and should work for yours, too:

Start where you already have a foothold. Take a look at your calendar – which venues have you worked at recently, and where are your weddings taking place over the next few months? Those venues are a great starting point, because you’ve either had or are about to have the opportunity to do your very best work and make a great impression. It’s always easier to approach a venue contact about referrals if you’ve just done a great job at that site.

If you are flying blind, choose venues for which you’re well-suited. Consider your branding (is it classic, modern, edgy, sophisticated, whimsical, something else?) as well as your target client – do these align with the branding and target client of the venue you’re soliciting? Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but using my own segment of the industry as an example, I wouldn’t expect a five-star historic hotel to be too excited to refer a DJ whose website blared loud party music upon loading, or whose DJs wore glittery bow ties to every event. By focusing your efforts on venues for which you’re a good match, you’ll increase your chances of earning their referrals.

Be respectful of the venue, always. This is so important, and something on which I train my entire team. Virtually every venue has rules – some stricter than others – and you need to follow them if you want the contact person to refer you. When you work an event, make sure you’re loading in where you’re supposed to,  you’re not causing damage to the venue by placing tape on delicate surfaces, you’re no standing on furniture and – by all means – you’re not rude to the staff.

Treat the contact like a person. I’ve heard from so many venue coordinators (and experienced it firsthand in the early days of my career, when I was a venue coordinator myself) that vendors can be incredibly presumptuous when it comes to expecting referrals. Please don’t make the mistake of dropping into a venue uninvited, expecting a meeting or a site tour, and don’t assume that, by leaving a brochure or some business cards, you’ll automatically make it on the venue’s referral list. Remember that venue contacts are human beings, with busy schedules and with existing relationships with other professionals who offer your same service. Making an effort to build a genuine rapport with them will go much further than treating them like they have an obligation to send business your way.

Consider what value you can bring to the venue. Let me start by emphasizing that in no way am I suggesting you offer a kickback! That couldn’t be any more off-base. Rather, think about how you might be able to show off your talent in the form of something useful for the venue and its coordinator. For example, photographers might consider providing images of recent events at that particular venue; DJs might offer to provide music for an employee party or open house; cake bakers might surprise the staff with some sweet treats. This kind of service allows you to showcase what you do, and helps you stand out from the crowd.

Demonstrate your commitment. Getting on a venue’s referral list, especially without having extensive experience at that venue, is a long game. It requires patience and a sustained effort over time. If you meet a venue contact at a networking function or some other off-site context, take the time to follow up afterward. Schedule an appointment to visit the space. Show that you understand and care about the venue’s requirements for its vendors. Check in with the contact periodically. In other words, try. Don’t expect a relationship to be formed overnight. And keep in mind: no one owes you referrals, ever. You need to earn them.