During my third year in business, I had nearly thirty weddings scheduled in about a six month time period. That's a lot of weddings. That's a lot of stress. That's a lot of weekends working, while my non-wedding friends were pedaling down the boardwalk on beach cruisers, still not really "getting" why I wasn't there. Some were two in one day, with me leading one, and my lead florist and then-business partner doing another simultaneously. Some were back-to-back on a Saturday and Sunday. In any case, to the outside person, I was doing pretty well. However as a word of caution, which I will get to in the last point, I didn't charge enough. So all those hours made for really beautiful weddings, except I had nothing monetarily to show for it after we paid out all the expenses.
While I own a floral design business, these tips for networking and succeeding in the wedding industry can be applied to anyone looking to build up or increase their business on a local level. It's not what you're doing, but how you can sell what you're doing. The best, most talented, in any field, won't always be the one to get the most work or the most recognition. Most people can do what you do, but knowing how to sell yourself will make the difference between who gets the most work, or the most interesting work, or the better clients. Whatever makes you tick, find that, and work on how to get it.
Of course, this all takes time, but you can accelerate time by really getting out there and doing it. Always do the things you don't want or feel like doing because you're too tired, it's too far, or you don't know anyone. Really do these things, and in due time it will pay off. In addition, it's a good idea to have reviews, good SEO, and a social media presence.
1. Join Specific Networking Groups
I'm now bicoastal in NYC and LA, but when I first started my business in LA (El Segundo to be exact), I was in 2 networking groups. One was through BNI (network referral program that meets weekly and is a big time commitment), one was called SMARTY (a local all-women's group that has speaker panels and brainstorming sessions). I also signed up for a mentor through the Manhattan Beach Women in Business program. You could choose which kind of mentor you wanted. At first I leaned towards the publicist, but then I decided to go with the marketing expert Michele Cataldo. I needed to get biz first before I could get PR!
2. Get Out and Show Face
The word networking probably makes you shutter. I still don't like it when it is cheesy and feels awkward and forced. Who would like that?! You'll start finding out about industry events through your networking groups and social media. Follow people who are in the know, who seem to have a lot of connections, and pal up with them. If you do go to an event solo, then find that other person standing alone and say hello.
The first questions usually are, "What do you do?" or "Where are you from?". Know how to answer them with specifics. Saying, "I own a floral business" is pretty standard. However saying, "I own a floral design studio based at the flower mart mainly focused on fashion, PR, and corporate events, and select weddings over (fill-in-the-blank-budget)", is a lot more info. Give a lot more bang for your buck. If someone asks where you live, instead of saying "In Hermosa Beach", say "I live in the South Bay, but we do weddings in Southern California from Santa Barbara to Palm Springs to San Diego", which gives a visual map of what weddings or events they could hire you for.
3. Make Real Friends
There's mean people in every industry. There's cliques, and cool kids and egos. But there's also a ton of really cool, down-to-earth, and real people. Hang with those people! You are who you hang with, so make good choices and stick to people that bring you up, instead of making you feel inadequate. Hang with your champions, and people that can talk you up. Be choosey, be selective, and be positive. Once you have a few good friends, that you truly like as people, and that you'd be friends with outside of work functions, then go with them to industry events. You'll have a good time, and what was once awkward, will now be fun.
4. Work With Novices
One mistake you can make is trying to squeeze in with a top vendor who already has their people they always work with. You'll be banging your head against a brick wall. I always say that I think it's a good thing people on the top stick together. I want that kind of loyalty from my clients, and the people I work with, so I respect others that do that. Instead, find people that are just starting out, who aren't tied to just one florist, one photographer, one caterer. It will be easier, and you can refer each other and grow together.
5. Do Shoots With Pros
While the top vendors may not refer clients to you, they may just work with you on projects outside of their normal day to day weddings and events. Team up with people above your current level to do styled shoots. These are very popular and have become a way for the wedding industry to become more artistic in a sense. Boundaries are being pushed, ideas created and executed, and there's a lot of inspiring work happening. Piggy-back on someone else's popularity by working with them. Pitch unique ideas that will elevate them too.
6. Find Your Niche
It took about four years for me to find my niche, and what got me excited. I always says the excitement you feel about what you're doing is the ultimate litmus test. You should get that push of adrenaline, have a somewhat solid vision, and really be able to talk with enthusiasm about your work. For me that was doing weddings with bigger budgets, working with really big marketing and PR firms, and working with out-of-the-box vendors that push the envelope. When I was doing lots of rustic weddings that all felt the same, I was happy for the business, but not happy with the work.
7. Research Vendors
One of the smartest things I did was to go on wedding blogs that have a preferred vendor list, and look up various vendors in my area. I mainly focused on wedding planners since they're my main referral resource. I looked through their profiles and websites, and then would email each complimenting their work and asking to meet up. In doing so, I got to meet people in person, and share what I do, what makes me different, and throw out ideas on the spot. I also found those people just starting out that would be more inclined to refer me. I still am friends with one of the planners to this day, and really cherish our working relationship. You can also find vendors to email and meet with through social media, which is always a constant thing to keep up on. If you do see someone's work that strikes your fancy, reach out to them. They may not have time to meet you, but at least now they'll know your name. Who knows, maybe in the future they'll need someone like you!
8. Be Friends With People Like You
At one of the first SMARTY events I went to, the founder Amy introduced to me another florist. Let me tell you, I was not happy. Why would I want to meet my competition? But Amy knew the benefits of being friends with the competition, especially one on your same level. That florist and I started chatting, and soon we would text each other questions, such as, "How would you create this? Do you know where I can get this?", stuff like that. It became a great benefit to have someone in my same industry who I could bounce questions off of, or ask for extra help. We also became referral partners. If one of us was booked, we'd refer the other. That's a great referral resource right there! So have a few people that do what you do in your circle because they may end up referring you the most!
9. Set Boundaries
I took some time off to recoup, and gather my thoughts. I really thought about what would make me happy. In doing so, I began to say no to all the smaller weddings that I'd said yes to the year before. I worked smarter not harder. I would rather say no to 5 small weddings, and the yes to 1 big one. Less time, more money. It's hard to say no when you're first starting out, but as you grow, become more selective. Do what makes you happy because at the end of the day, that will make your clients happy, your vendors happy, your staff happy. You're the leader, you're the visionary, you're the one making good choices and leading the way.
Carly Cylinder owns the bicoastal floral design studio Flour LA, and is the author of The Flower Chef, which will be out in Spring 2015. Follow her @Flourgal and @theflowerchef on Instagram to see her latest work.