Some people call me an OG of wedding business marketing, but deep down I'm just another person wearing PJ bottoms on Zoom. I swear a lot, I share my struggles, and I don't pretend to be better than anyone else.
Networking can feel sleazy and anxiety-provoking. It can feel like an awkward situation you put yourself in that somehow will magically turn into relationships that lead to more business. How do you make the most of networking events? How do you meet the right people? How do you follow up with them? There are a lot of questions that don’t ever seem to get addressed about networking and that’s why today’s episode is practical AF.
We all know networking is important, especially in the wedding industry, but how do you do it in a way that leaves you feeling less awkward? Well my friend, today’s podcast guest is a master connector and she’s so good at it, she built an entire business around it.
No more showing up to networking events and hoping. After this podcast episode, you’ll go into your next networking event with a plan.
In this episode we’ll cover:
When Sara Alepin started going to networking events as a photographer, she was looking to hire photographers to take on weddings for her business. She wanted to avoid the feeling of competition so she could actually build relationships with other photographers.
The first step to making networking events successful is to define your goals. Sara knew she wanted to hire photographers but she also wanted to find other wedding pros she could get referrals from and wedding pros she could refer her clients to.
Sara has a great hack for making networking events feel less awkward. When you walk in, go in and find someone who you have never met that looks uncomfortable and introduce yourself. Take this person along with you as you’re networking with the people at the event.
You’re doing that person a huge favor by bringing them into conversations and it makes it easier for both of you to break into circles of people who are already talking without feeling like the lone person that’s just lurking around.
You want to make sure you show up as who you truly are as a person at a networking event because our brands are heavily based on our personalities. This makes it more likely that you’ll attract and connect with people who are the right fit for you and your business.
Most people hold themselves back at networking events and show up in a business suit instead of the graphic tee and jeans they feel most comfortable in. The way you present yourself allows you to connect on a more personal level with other people at a networking event. Don’t hide your personality when you attend networking events!
Before you even leave for the networking event, add buffer time so you can hang out after the event if you’re having a great time talking to people. One of Sara’s favorite ways to connect with people at networking events is to be genuine and curious. That means not approaching people and leading with “so what do you do?” because the goal isn’t just to find out what someone does for a living, it’s to get to them on a personal level.
When starting a conversation at a networking event, lead with the person you’re talking to instead of talking about yourself. Starting with something as simple as “Hi I’m Sara, how are you?” can be a great way to open a conversation. We overthink what to say to other people at networking events and you don’t have to have some canned introduction question lined up. As Sara puts it, “Set aside your agenda and meet people the way you would in regular life”.
The goal is to keep your focus on the other person and be curious about them but what do you say to someone to get the ball rolling when the conversation isn’t moving naturally? Sara often makes awkward jokes or she’ll talk about something light-hearted. She might tell a story or ask a relevant question about something that’s going on at the time.
Sara lives in Washington DC and the cicadas that come out every 17 years are both loud and a great topic of conversation because it’s something everyone is experiencing and can relate to. She pivots this to be specific about the wedding industry by asking something like “Have you had any craziness at outdoor weddings with the cicadas hatching?”
You could even ask something like “Have you had any fun winter weddings this year?” just to get the conversation flowing on the topic of weddings. People love to tell stories and by asking these questions, you’re breaking the ice for them and allowing them to open up.
If you aren’t the ideal person for someone and they aren’t the ideal person for you, you’re both wasting time. Releasing that person from the conversation is a favor to them as well as to yourself. Sara had a particularly interesting experience with a window salesman that was at a wedding event for some reason. He didn’t want to let her move on even though she knew absolutely no one who owned their home and would need his services.
If you find yourself in that situation, you can introduce that person to someone else who might be a better fit for them. You could take them around the room with you as you move through groups or connect them to someone who you genuinely think would be a good fit. This works much better and feels much better than escaping to the bathroom or getting a drink.
As you can probably tell, Sara approaches networking in a way where she looks to help, be kind, and do right by people. She’s not trying to ditch anyone or pawn them off on somebody else. Too often, we go into networking events with a “what can I get?” mentality instead of a “how can I help?” mentality.
Instead of thinking of networking events as a business card swap meet, think of it as a way to create and build real relationships. Step into the shoes of the other person and treat people the way you want to be treated. Taking a curious, helpful approach to networking leads to much better results and everyone has a better time. If we have to network, we may as well enjoy it!
There are countless outcomes that you could get from networking events that aren’t just getting referrals. It’s important to know your intention but you shouldn’t let that overshadow the entire event. Networking events are interesting because you never know who you’re going to meet and where that relationship might go. Referrals are wonderful but they aren’t the only outcome you can get from a networking event.
You may be on the lookout for a virtual assistant or help with your social media. You may be looking to bring on other associate planners or photographers. You may be looking for a business coach to help you grow your business. You can find all of these things through conversations with people at networking events. Don’t let the prospect of referrals stop you from exploring other ways to make connections.
Another great use for networking events is to find people you can collaborate or ideate with. Bouncing your ideas off of someone else in the industry with a different perspective can help you figure out what your next steps should be.
If you’re working on putting a styled shoot together, networking events can be a great way to meet vendors you’ve never had the opportunity to work with. You never know what other people are up to and how you might fit into that. The opportunities found in networking are truly endless and they don’t show up when you’re not open and curious.
When someone asks Sara what she does at a networking event, she says something like this:
“Hi I’m Sara Alepin. I’m the CEO of District Bliss. We host networking events, social events, and workshops to help you skyrocket your business with ease.”
Sometimes people explain what they do in the broadest possible way by saying something like “I’m a wedding photographer” when something more specific about who you work with and what you do would be better. Make sure you’re communicating who you specifically work with and if there is something you specialize in.
If you’re a wedding planner and you focus on small weddings and elopements in gorgeous outdoor locations, say that! That makes it so much easier for people to refer you, connect you with others, and understand how they can provide value to you. People need to understand what you do and who you do it for or they won’t be able to refer you.
Relationships aren’t built at networking events, they’re started. If you don’t nurture those relationships, they won’t grow. After the event, follow them on social media and actually engage with them in a meaningful way. Comment on their Instagram posts and Stories with something more significant than “love this” to stay top of mind.
Sara loves to personally email people after a networking event and bring up something that was said during the conversation so it isn’t just a template-style email. This helps the person remember who you are and see that you’re interested in actually building a relationship, not just pitching them something or asking them for something.
If you don’t hear back, don’t get discouraged! We’re all busy so follow up if you don’t hear back and don’t assume no response means they don’t want to hear from you.
Remember, networking is not about you, it’s about them. Focus on the other person to get as much as you can out of networking events.
Sara is a master connector. She’s so good at it, she turned it into a business when founding the District Bliss community, which hosts networking socials that foster quality connections and workshops to help you skyrocket your business with ease!
As an extrovert living in a work-from-home world, she’s found ways to leverage connections and continue to expand her multiple businesses, even during the pandemic.
In addition to being the CEO of both District Bliss and Photos from the Harty, Sara is also a podcaster x2 as the host of The Wedding Dish and co-host of Laughing with Gingers.
Join us inside The Wedding Business Collective!
Episode 196: The Right Way To Networking With Wedding Vendors with Megan Gillikin
Episode 172: How To Make Networking Work For Your Wedding Business with Kevin Dennis
Episode 198: Discovering The Power Of Community Over Competition with Natalie Franke
Episode 114: Dealing With Doubt & Imposter Syndrome with Lauren Aycock Anderson
Episode 123: How To Get Referred By Wedding Planners & Other Vendors with Josey Stafford
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