• Event Vendor Networking: A Beginner’s Guide

    Embarking on a journey in the event industry is like stepping into a vibrant tapestry of opportunities and connections. As you launch your new event vendor business, you’re not just investing in products and services; you’re stepping into a world where relationships are the cornerstone of success. In this dynamic arena, understanding the art of networking is not just beneficial – it’s essential. This guide is your roadmap to navigating the intricate network of the event industry, ensuring your venture isn’t just a splash in the pond, but a lasting ripple in the market.

    The term ‘event vendor’ is often used interchangeably with ‘partner’ or ‘team’ by many planners. For the context of this article, we define an event vendor as any company offering products or services for an event, excluding planning services or a physical venue. This includes but is not limited to, rental companies, DJs, photographers, caterers, decorators, florists, transportation services, security, and entertainers.

    Networking is not just about exchanging business cards; it’s about building relationships. As a new vendor in the events industry, your network is your net worth. Relationships with other vendors, event planners, and clients can lead to referrals, collaborations, and valuable insights into industry trends and client needs.

    Where to go?

    There are a variety of great options for new vendors, and a lot of it will depend on the type of client you are after. Here are some examples of current groups and what you can expect from them.

    The event industry is supported by numerous prominent organizations catering to professionals across various specialties. These groups play a pivotal role in providing resources, education, and networking opportunities on a global scale. They are instrumental for those seeking to expand their professional network, gain industry insights, and develop their skills. Here’s an overview of some key international and national associations that are integral to event professionals:

    Target Audience: Event planners, suppliers, students, and academics in the meeting and event industry. Particularly focused on those involved in large trade shows and conferences. You’ll find many association planners, corporate planners, Convention Visitor’s Bureaus (CVBs), and large hotels/event venues.

    Overview: MPI is one of the largest meeting and event industry associations globally. It offers extensive educational resources, certification programs (like the Certified Meeting Professional designation), research, and networking opportunities. MPI’s events range from local chapter meetings to large international conferences, offering unique opportunities for learning and networking. In order to try and keep the balance between planners and suppliers, they do charge more to suppliers for memberships and some programs.

    Key Events: IMEX, WEC


    Target Audience: Event professionals involved in planning, managing, and supplying for live events. You’ll typically see a higher percentage of event vendors, mixed with social and wedding planners, DMCs, and small planner agencies.

    Overview: ILEA focuses on the creative events professional, providing a platform for those involved in planning and executing live events. Members include caterers, event planners, decorators, and more. ILEA hosts educational and networking events, and has chapters around the world.

    Key Events: Ignite, The Special Event/Catersource


    Target Audience: Professionals in the wedding industry, including planners, designers, caterers, photographers, and other wedding vendors.

    Overview: WIPA is dedicated to providing education, industry standards, and opportunities for collaboration among wedding professionals globally. It focuses on the refinement and professionalism of the wedding industry. WIPA hosts regular meetings, educational seminars, and networking events specifically tailored to the needs of those in the wedding business. These events offer insights into the latest trends, best practices, and business development strategies in the wedding industry, making it a valuable resource for professionals looking to enhance their expertise and connections in this niche market. If you are focused on weddings, this will be a great fit for you.

    Link: https://www.wipa.org/

    Target Audience: Catering professionals, event planners, and vendors involved in the catering and events industry.

    Overview: NACE is a leading organization for those who specialize in catering and event planning. Its focus is on providing its members with education, networking opportunities, and resources that are crucial for their professional development. NACE offers a variety of educational programs, including webinars, workshops, and the annual NACE Experience conference, which features industry experts, innovative trends, and networking opportunities. This organization is particularly valuable for those looking to deepen their knowledge of catering trends, event design, business management, and best practices within the catering and events sector. NACE also emphasizes the importance of ethical practices and standards in the industry, making it a vital community for professionals seeking to elevate their services and reputation.

    Key Event: NACE Experience Conference


    Most areas will have local networking groups that are either unique to that city or limited to a few markets. For example, in Austin, the ‘Just Because Happy Hour’ popped up recently and has been incredibly popular among event professionals. Check out resources such as Meetup, and Eventbrite to look for event industry gatherings. If you don’t see any that match what you’re looking for, it might be a great opportunity to start your own meetup.

    Open Houses are another great way to meet other professionals in your area. Most event venues and other companies often host open houses at their facility. You can either attend or offer your services to get seen by a room full of potential clients.

    Steps to Effective Networking

    • Get Involved: Networking is not a one-and-done task. It involves building relationships over time. The best way to jump-start this is by getting involved early. For associations, consider joining a committee or volunteering to help at the next event.
    • Be Prepared: Have your elevator pitch ready. This should be a concise description of what your business offers, what makes it unique, and how it adds value to an event. Ensure you have plenty of business cards and/or a digital business card.
    • Active Listening: Networking is a two-way street. Listen more than you talk. Understand the needs and challenges of others; this will help you tailor your services to meet industry demands.
    • Follow Up: After meeting someone, follow up with a personalized message. This could be a simple email or a LinkedIn connection request, referencing something specific from your conversation.
    • Build Online Presence: A robust online presence is crucial in today’s digital age. Regularly update your website and social media with your recent work, testimonials, and industry insights.
    • Collaborate and Cross-Promote: Consider collaborations with other vendors. This could be as simple as a photographer working with a florist for a styled shoot. Such collaborations can broaden your exposure and lead to shared referrals.
    • Offer Exceptional Service: Word-of-mouth is powerful. Always deliver exceptional service; satisfied clients and fellow vendors are more likely to recommend you.
    • Stay Informed and Involved: Keep up with industry trends and contribute to discussions. Joining an association not only offers networking opportunities but also helps you stay informed and involved in the industry.

    Long-Term Networking Strategies

    Networking is not a one-time activity but a continuous process. As you grow, consider offering workshops or speaking at industry events. Mentorship, either being a mentor or seeking one, can also be a powerful networking tool.

    In Conclusion

    As we wrap up this guide, remember that networking in the event industry isn’t just a strategy; it’s the lifeline of your business. The connections you cultivate go beyond mere transactions; they are about building a community that supports, inspires, and grows with you. Your aim should extend beyond immediate gains – think long-term, where your network becomes the backbone of a thriving and resilient business. So, step forward with confidence, engage authentically, and embrace the journey of creating meaningful relationships. The path of networking is not just about business growth; it’s about crafting a legacy in the vibrant world of events. Start building your network today and set the stage for a future where your event vendor business doesn’t just succeed; it leads and innovates.”

    This revised conclusion reinforces the importance of networking and adds an inspirational tone, encouraging the reader to view networking as an integral part of their business journey and success.

    Event Vendor Networking: A Beginner’s Guide
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