How to Survive (and Thrive!) at a Vendor Networking Event

Actual footage of my lead planners and I enjoying a networking event!

Actual footage of my lead planners and I enjoying a networking event!

~Networking~ Ugh. It’s a necessary evil. I’m a pretty social person, but for some reason when I get an invitation to events thrown by wedding vendors for wedding vendors, blotches appear on my skin. I hit ‘attending’ on the Facebook event page and begrudgingly add it to my calendar. What fresh hell awaits me this time?

I went to my first-ever vendor mixer last August, and quickly realized that networking was not a skill that came naturally to me. I breezed into the venue and all of my worst high school fears immediately came true:

  1. I was too scared to start a conversation, and chose to stare at my phone instead.

  2. The conversations I did manage to start ended super weird because I couldn’t keep them going.

  3. I stood alone in the corner for what seemed like an eternity, and had to stop myself from sprinting out the door.

YIKES! I almost cried in my car on the drive home, and I promised myself next time would be better. These events were not going away, and I needed to not only be at them physically, but mentally too.

Here’s something I did not realize when I started my business: The Pittsburgh wedding community is tight! Not in a clique-y Mean Girls way, but in a We’re All in This Together High School Musical way! The right connection can mean a new client, which can lead to even more clients, and snowball into a successful business! No one wants to refer the weird wedding planner sitting in the corner to their brides and grooms.

Another thing I figured out is that owning a business (especially when you work from home) can sometimes feel really isolating and lonely, and these events can lead to something else: Friends! I need those y’all.

Anyway, I spent the past few months attending any/every vendor networking event I got invited to, and here’s what I learned:

Prepare.


If these types of environments stress you out, don’t just stumble into them! The day before, make a plan to set yourself up for a successful night. Here are the things I think about when I know an event is coming up:

What will I wear? Depending on what I’ve got going on that day, I either wear my trusty jumpsuit or something I love, but haven’t had an excuse to break out of my closet yet. Don’t forget that these are your peers, not your clients, so it’s okay to be more of ‘yourself’ instead of ‘your brand.’ I finally did this on Wednesday at the Burgh Brides Cocktail Hour with a bright-ass orange sundress, and it was a hit!

Nicole ( Exhale Events ), myself, and Emily ( Em + E Events ) at the Burgh Brides Spring Cocktail Hour!  Joe Appel Photography.

Nicole (Exhale Events), myself, and Emily (Em + E Events) at the Burgh Brides Spring Cocktail Hour! Joe Appel Photography.

Why am I going? Have you been dying to meet a certain florist or vendor you’re working with in 2020? Is there another wedding planner who you drool over on Instagram, and want to pick her brain about something? Just trying to blow off some steam and vent with the only people who ‘get it’? Whatever it is, set an intention for the evening, and stick to it! Having a ‘mission’ to accomplish gives me a sense of purpose for being there, and keeps me distracted from…sitting in a corner by myself looking weird.

Who else is going? There’s power in numbers! I know many people who will not go to these things unless they are with someone else, and I respect the hell out of that. I brought two of my lead planners with me to the Burgh Brides Bash last November. I had so much fun, I went in a photobooth.

If I don’t have a wing woman, just simply asking an acquaintance if they’re planning to go helps ease my anxiety. This is best done casually, via Instagram DM the day of the event. Every single time I’ve done this, it’s been a win. A few people have even messaged me first, and it makes me feel way less alone! Impostor syndrome can gtfo.

Talking points, y’all. This sounds lame as hell, but brainstorm a talking point or two on the drive over to get a conversation flowing with a stranger. It will take two seconds, and they’ll be fresh in your mind.

Questions I love to ask people:

  • How/Why did you launch your business?

  • Which wedding are you most excited about this season? Any you’re dreading? (Real talk: We’re all dreading at least one lmao)

  • What did you wish you knew when you got into the wedding industry?

My Hail Mary question that works every time: Are you married? Tell me everything about your wedding! Just bought myself 30 minutes right here.

Stuff about me that I used at an event this week:

  • I start my wedding season this Saturday, woohoo!

  • My styled shoot got accepted to a national publication, I’m really proud of it.

  • July 2019 is wide open for me, do you know any couples who might need a day of coordinator?

My Hail Mary fun fact: I’m getting married! Here’s everything I’m doing for my wedding! SORRRRRRY.

Survive.

Woohoo! You made it to the event, and you’re prepared!

You’ve parked your car and are browsing the interwebz to stall and arrive fashionably late! The first 15-20 minutes are always the most scary for me. Here’s how I get through them:

Step 1: Walk in and ‘ooh and ahh’ over the space. Someone planned this months in advance, and spent their entire day setting this shit up for you to enjoy! Vendors see pretty stuff every weekend, so I can’t imagine the pressure on the host to deliver. Cheers to these brave souls! Take a picture of some details you like, maybe post a story, and scan the room until you find the host/sponsor/head honcho. Try to greet them before being sucked into other conversations or hitting up the bar. Compliment their outfit, the event space—anything lol—and share 1-2 things you’ve been working on since you spoke last (fun facts above!), then excuse yourself. They are going to be the most popular people in the room, so don’t hog their attention, that’s rude.

Step 2: Take a lap, and find someone you have met before. This was challenging for me at my first event because I was so new. Now, I always find someone to talk to within the first lap (this isn’t a flex lmao, Pittsburgh is just small), and we’re good for at least 10-15 minutes of catch up/casual conversation. If I don’t see anyone, my lap ends at the bar. Time for some wine!

Thrive!

Step 3: After you’re chatting with someone you already know, one of two things will happen. Either someone else they know will hop into the conversation, giving you a chance to introduce yourself AND NETWORK, BABY, or you’ll see someone hovering nearby, waiting to be invited to join your conversation AND NETWORK, BABY!

True Life: I’m a hover-er. Anytime I sense someone else hovering, I invite them to chat. I know that feeling and it’s awkward as hell. Being inclusive is always the right answer. Time to execute those talking points!

Step 4: Move on to the next one! One mistake I’ve made in the past is staying in the same spot, with the same people for the entire event. Why do I do that? Because it beats the hell out of ending up in a corner by myself looking weird, duh!!!

If you’re vibing with someone, ask for their card/Insta handle as you excuse yourself, and follow up with a lunch date. This has happened to me SO. MANY. TIMES, and resulted in some great friendships. Hii Kayla, Maria, Katie, Nicole, Emily, Victoria and Kerry! I love y’all.

Step 5: Have you accomplished the intentions you set? Time is running out, so get it done! If you’ve got that on lock, ask yourself one question: Stay or go?

There is always a clear moment towards the end of the event where the ‘working,’ winds down, and we all just start socializing. On a regular night out, I’m the type of person who never wants to call it. My friends have had to literally drag me off the dance floor as the house lights turn on, so 99% of the time, I stay. It’s my reward for slugging through the hard part.

But guess what? It’s also okay to go! If I have an early morning, or I know dinner is waiting for me at home, I say thank you and bounce. Staying always results in some great laughs, more in-depth conversations, and general bonding with whoever sticks around, but I try not to be That Guy every single time.

Not once have I ever left a networking event and thought ‘Wow, I got nothing out of tonight, I totally regret going.’ Even that crappy first one eventually led me to writing this blog post, which may help someone else!

All I’m saying is, the best billboard for your business is YOU, so get out there. Maybe one day, you’ll come to my event! HA.

~Bonus Advice~

Here are some stupid ass mistakes I’ve made at networking events that you shouldn’t:

  • Drinking too much wine. When you work every weekend, sometimes you’ll get the urge to get all Thirsty Thursday up in this B. Don’t.

  • Being glued to your phone. Snap a pic or two for your Instagram later, but do not be checking emails or texting a lot. Networking is an in person activity, ya gotta be present!

  • Forgetting your business cards (!!!) Dumb.

  • Wearing your dinner. I’m a messy eater, choose your finger food carefully!

  • ….Going at all. Sometimes, I’m just not feeling it. It’s better to stay home than phone it in while networking. You need to be on, so if you’re off, opt out and press play on that true crime doc! There’s always going to be another event to stress about.

To all the awkward girls sitting in the corner looking weird, you got this! I support you!

XO,

Heather