Ask An Expert – The Value of Networking
Long before I owned a business, I had heard the term “networking” hundreds of times. The value of networking was always touted as the way to get ahead; it’s a way to give your brand an identifiable face within the sea of competition. I always thought it sounded gruesome. I could just picture it, walking up to a stranger with a swagger of confidence, name badge swaying as I moved. With a firm hand shake and a warm yet professional smile I would say, “Hi, my name is Lynn Lee. I’m a wedding planner. And you are?”
Promptly after this dashing opener, I imagined the conversation becoming more and more strained as the moments passed, as we both struggled to get to know one another when neither of us really cared. The entire evening of my networking dream played out this way with dozens of empty, fake conversations until I was able to plan my escape home to bed, thankful that it was all over. It might have been a bad attitude, but it was the truth. The whole concept sent shivers down my spine. I was all about real relationships, not pretending I connected with someone just to get myself ahead.
Then came the launch of Weddings Unveiled. For the first time I was faced with establishing myself in a new market, and I don’t have to tell you what that meant: NETWORKING! I had a leg-up on some new planners in that I was already coordinating weddings for a local venue, so I already knew some people within the industry. It was imperative that I connect with these people to let them know I was now hanging my own shingle as an independent business owner.
I promptly set up meetings to chat about how I could refer their businesses to my clients. The meetings were pleasant as I connected with business owners whose work I knew and respected. These were people with whom I had come to know, chat, laugh, and share stories. I was pleased to be connecting in a very real, genuine way. Once those meetings were over however, I was faced with the daunting task of connecting with those companies with whom I had no prior relationship, but whose work I admired. I had to get to know their services so I could offer my future clients the breadth of knowledge that they deserved. What’s worse, there were so many of them!
The following weeks saw cold calls by the dozen. Every time I picked up the phone to call someone new, I dreaded it like a visit to the dentist. Were they going to be welcoming, or were they going to quickly inform me that they didn’t have time to chat with a newbie who was more of a nuisance than a benefit? I have to tell you, I was surprised how things played out. Nearly every time I was met with warmth and general interest. I spent days and days running around the city, meeting with anyone and everyone I could. The conversations were much easier than I anticipated and I made some real connections with people I still work with today. About three months into launching my business I had swallowed up all the knowledge I could about my local industry and felt that I could go out in the wedding world and represent my clients to the best of my ability. Networking wasn’t nearly as excruciating as I thought.
Today I continue to attend networking events on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s in an attempt to get to know a new service provider. Other times it’s in support or celebration of someone with whom I am already familiar. Regardless of the occasion, there is always someone at those events I haven’t yet met, and I am constantly faced with networking in its truest form.
Even today, there’s still an initial moment where my hands sweat in anxiety as I see a new face coming toward me. I still feel stressed at the thought of having to make conversation with someone I don’t know – will it be comfortable or will it be awkward? But 99.9% of the time, as soon as the other person opens their mouth and starts speaking, I realize that all is well. We always seem to find something to talk about and sometimes that relationship is one that ends up being really valuable either to my business or to me personally. I actually love going to most networking events now. In fact, there is one coming up in three weeks that I would never miss. They provide me with an opportunity to connect with suppliers away from weddings and events where we are always too busy to chat. They allow us to laugh over a glass of wine and reminisce about past clients. We pump each other up and we provide an ear when someone needs feedback. We are each other’s greatest supporters; in fact, many suppliers have become friends outside of regular work days.
Although the truest form of networking still provides me with a tinge of anxiety, I realize that I wouldn’t have the business I do today, nor have the friends that I’ve made, if it wasn’t for networking events. Networking helped me to establish my company at the outset, and today allows me to remain connected. Without it, I would be an unknown in an industry where being known for your work is everything.
So next time you’re faced with a networking opportunity, just remember that the person on the other side of the conversation is just like you. Someone whose hands are probably starting to sweat, just like yours, as you approach. Someone who, like you, just wants their business to succeed. Someone who probably doesn’t know much more than you do, and is just looking for support. Someone with their own personal demands, flaws, accomplishments, and fears. Someone who eats, sleeps, and celebrates bad days and good days, just like you. That’s why it’s simply not warranted to be intimidated by meeting someone new. Connecting with others is one of the greatest joys of being a business owner. Without it, I would be left staring at my laptop all day in a cave of loneliness. Welcome networking and all that it will provide you. I promise you won’t regret it!
Till next time, happy planning!
Written by Lynn Lee
Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.