Wedding industry referrals can happen anywhere, from anyone, at any time. But, typically, a venue's catering manager will hand out a trusted referral list of preferred vendors to each bride and groom when they book. There's maybe two or three vendors per category and it can be rather difficult to get placed on these lists.
Let's face it: There are tens or even hundreds of great vendors per category -- and many who never make those "lists" are incredible at their jobs, or may be well-suited for a certain type of wedding vision or couple.
So, how do you get referrals you need to grow your business? By creating powerful relationships.
From the day I first opened my retail bridal salon in the early '80s, I received many calls and visits from wedding industry-related vendors asking for referral of their businesses to my highly coveted clientele.
Of course, I couldn't refer every vendor who walked through my door. I determined who I would refer based on whether or not they showed interest in my clientele over serving their own specific agenda. I provided the best service and product, therefore, I would only refer those vendors who did the same. I became a conduit from vendors I trusted -- and who shared my values -- to engaged couples I met in my salon.
In order to be referred, people have to know who you are and understand the foundation of reliability and excellent work that you can provide. Not only were the vendors I referred enthusiastic, they were sincere, hardworking and attentive. Their confidence assured me that I would receive positive comments about their work from my clients post-event.
Here's how to build a foundation that showcases not only your talents as a vendor but shows that you're the type of person that brides and grooms -- and other wedding industry professionals -- want to work with.
1. Step out beyond your comfort zone. Whether you're a baker who spends all of your time in a commercial kitchen, or a florist who can wile away hours at the flower market, you must go out into the world and promote yourself in person to other vendors and wedding businesses that cater to your clientele. Don't send a representative. And don't just leave your collateral. Go yourself and bring a sample of your work. It not only is the perfect example of your talents, but who wouldn't appreciate (and remember) sweet treats or a gorgeous flower arrangement? By leaving a physical sign that you were there, those items could be seen by clientele (or even tasted by them) and you may get a referral pretty quickly. I would even suggest calling ahead to ask vendors and business owners which part of the week they see more clientele or if they have a special event coming up to which you could contribute.
2. Go to industry soirées and extend your hand. See and be seen: Make meaningful conversation with every person you meet. This means asking lots of questions, which will lead to answers that will enlighten you as to the other person's agenda. Your genuine interest will pay off because you will be recognized as authentic and sincere -- qualities we all want in our inner circle of friends, not to mention in those we work with or refer. And always address people by their names: Call them by name when you say hello for the first time and when you part ways.
3. Connect with your clients' other vendors. Other vendors who worked the same weddings as you did are more apt to share experiences with you since they are not strangers to you any longer. If you're a photographer and got great shots of the baker's cake, send over the images for his or her website. If you are the baker and the photographer loved the cake, bake him or her a small version and drop it off as a thank you.
4. Take other vendors out. If you're new to the industry or simply haven't taken the time to truly network yet, send other vendors in related categories samples of your work (in the form of creative collateral) with an invitation to meet up. Do you make wedding stationary? Create something unique and include a Starbucks coffee card and a note that you'd love to get together and talk shop. Be sure to mark your calendar as to when you've sent what to whom and follow up.
5. Send out a questionnaire to former clientele. Their word of mouth can create volumes of business. In addition to asking your clients to refer you to friends and write reviews for your services on Yelp, WeddingWire and other review sites, also ask them a few short questions regarding their experiences and who their other favorite vendors were. These people will likely be the most pleasant to work with and the most liked in your local industry. Then, don't be afraid to reach out to those vendors and tie the knots. Break the ice.
6. Be realistic. Building a strong foundation won't happen overnight -- it's even a bit arrogant to think that you'll garner quality referrals right away. This process takes time and effort -- but it will pay off. If you are a beginner in a field, don't overreach and ask for the biggest wedding on the calendar. Start small and ask for a referral that fits in your category. Contrary to what you may think, even the biggest industry players either have more intimate events or hear of opportunity to which they can refer a newcomer who they believe in. So, be confident (but also be realistic) about the scope of your offering.
Please share your own tips for connecting with other vendors in the comments to continue the conversation and connect with Renée on how to build your net worth by growing your network.