I’ve invited Nora Sheils to share her expertise on networking. Nora is the co-founder of Rock Paper Coin, the first software platform to bring together wedding planners, couples, and vendors into one system for managing and paying contracts and invoices. She is also the founder and lead wedding planner of award-winning firm Bridal Bliss.

In the wedding industry, referral business is what makes the world go around. It’s an effective way to earn pre-qualified leads with little to no marketing effort — and, for many, it can be the top source of bookings. One of the quickest ways to rack up the referral business is to win a highly-coveted spot on vendor lists within your market.

Making solid industry connections and carving out a reputation as a trusted partner will put you on many vendor lists, which in turn will enhance your reputation with other vendors. There’s no questioning the value of vendor lists, but it begs the question: how can wedding professionals earn those spots? Well, let’s look at a few ways to make your mark within your network.

Go virtual with industry events

This is something most of us were doing before the pandemic and will resume on the other side. While we’re staying at home, it can feel difficult to engage with your network and make new connections. Many communities have groups on social media that can help to fill in the gap left by social distancing; if your market doesn’t have one, consider starting one and get the conversation going.

There are also statewide, national and international groups online that you can join. Many are hosting webinars, workshops, and educational summits online which can be a great way to replace physical events for the time being. Remember: We are stronger in numbers, so we can do more as an industry when we work together.

Nurture one-on-one connections

Building relationships with those in your network is an excellent way to start building referral businesses, but it’s become a bit of a challenge while we can’t treat a vendor to lunch or stop by their office with their go-to coffee order. For now, we have to rely on social media and Zoom to stay connected — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it!

Schedule a morning coffee meeting to kick-off the week or a post-work happy hour with some vendors you’d like to get to know better. We are all in the same boat, so it’s a great opportunity to brainstorm, vent, or just let loose for a bit. Share details about your life outside of work and ask them questions to learn more about them and their passions. The more you can develop a personal relationship, the stronger your professional relationship will be as a result — and you’ll gain some lifelong friendships!

Send a thoughtful gift

I am a believer in showing appreciation and, thus, I find it important to spend some of your marketing dollars on treating vendors with unexpected treats. It’s memorable and appreciated, and will be sure to earn you some brownie points in their eyes. Trust me, everyone loves a surprise! Consider sending a thoughtful care package of sweets, a basket of gardening supplies, a Postmates order of ice cream, or anything else that will show you care. You don’t need to spend a fortune on this to be memorable, so get creative and think about what will make your creative partners feel special.

Of course, getting that spot on the vendor list doesn’t mean you’re ‘done.’ You must continue nurturing those relationships and showing up as a valuable partner to maintain your reputation.

As we get closer to the recovery stage, expect the world of networking to look different. There will be new norms for everything and we’ll likely see smaller one-on-one meetings shine in place of large gatherings. That’s not to say the idea of networking will lose steam; if anything, it will open up the opportunity to build deeper, more intimate connections within our communities.