I’ve said this in a few posts, but I think it bears repeating:
Want to grow your business? BUILD your NETWORK.
We spend so much time reaching out to the “high-hanging fruit” (editorial, award recognition, advertising, and so on) that we often forget that getting to know other wedding vendors, is the best way to improve your reputation, grow relationships, and get sales from referrals.
Kelly wrote a post a few months ago about making an intentional networking plan. (You can read the post here.) And, yesterday, I talked about spending at least one hour each day working on promotional activities. Today, I want to talk about the coffee date… this is a meeting you set with a vendor with the purpose of networking with them.
I want to share my strategy with you for these coffee dates. I am very curious about small business, and I naturally have an investigative nature… as a result, I always want to know everything about a person’s business. These coffee dates have a very focused business purpose. My PURPOSE is to learn EVERYTHING about this business and the owner.
Also, I want to be able to bring business to this person. I want to be able to refer someone to them. It is in bringing business to them, that business will come to me. I also want to know who their customer is so that I can make the best match. I don’t want to send the wrong client their way. It does neither party a good service.
What to discuss on a coffee date with a vendor…
Your coffee date needs to have a purpose and a focus. Yes, you should talk about your personal life (family, kids, fashion, etc), but you need to make sure that you are learning about the other person. These are some of the questions that I ask during my coffee dates. This may seem structured (like an interview) but keep in mind, that this is something that flows natural to me, because of my business curiosity.
- Why did you start your business? What did you do before?
- If you weren’t doing weddings, what would you be doing?
- Who is your ideal customer? What are they like?
- What is your favorite thing to work on? Favorite project?
- What makes you different? What makes your business different? What is your specialty?
- How do people find you? How do they learn about you?
- What do you think about our market? What is your perception on weddings in ______ (insert city)?
- How can I help promote your business?
It’s all MARKET RESEARCH…
You see where this is going? In essence, this is marketing research. I am conducting this research to benefit my business understanding… to benefit my marketing strategy. But, I’m also doing this research so that I can understand what this colleague’s marketing strategy is. There may be things that are helpful to my business. But also, there are things here that I can use to help sell their business and to bring them referrals.
Now, if this vendor is a smart and savvy business person, they are going to be doing the same. They are going to be sizing you up, researching your business. They will grow from it as business owners. AND, they will be able to refer business to you.
It is only in understanding someone’s business that we can give them a quality referral. AND , vice versa… it is only in someone understanding our business that they can give us a quality referral. If you haven’t thought about some of these questions, as they relate to your business, make sure to do so. You need to be knowledgeable about your business in order to best express it… in order to best promote it. If you can’t sell it, how can someone else?
During these coffee dates, the priority needs to be understanding the OTHER person and bringing them business. It seems like you should be working on promoting yourself, doesn’t it? But, it doesn’t work that way. GIVE and ye shall RECEIVE. Somehow, it just works out like that. People will bring you business if you are a giver. It may not even be directly from the person that you send referrals to. It may come from someone else. But it will come.
One of the greatest benefits of the coffee date is that you become highly visible in your community. Let’s say you have coffee with Sally Wedding Planner on Monday and Fiona Florist on Tuesday. Well, on Saturday, Sally and Fiona do a wedding together. Guess what they talk about? “OH yeah – I had coffee with that photographer too! She was so great.” YOU eventually become the TALK of the TOWN. If you work it… people will come to know you throughout the industry. And, FAST! The coffee date is very powerful.
So… whatcha waiting for? I hear the coffee grinder going. Make a coffee date!