As I write this post, I’m still fresh off the high that comes from attending an industry event – a show, festival, or retreat full of people who are just as much into your thing as you are. For me, that event was Stitches South 2015, a huge knitting-filled weekend (classes, presentations, fashion shows, and a marketplace) that just happened to be held in the town where I live. It was fantastic to attend Stitches, and it also served to remind me of a few important lessons.
When you go to an industry event, you might be there for a variety of reasons – selling your wares, taking or teaching a class, or just having fun. Whatever the case, an industry event can be an opportunity to network – and you never know when those connections might become more valuable down the road.
Tips for networking at industry events:
- Wear a name tag. I didn’t follow my own advice on this one, and I met a lot of awesome people who probably won’t remember me after the fact (which is okay, for me, because I wasn’t there specifically to promote or sell anything). Whether you’re vending at a festival or just attending, put on a little name tag so people will know who you are! Include your name and your business so people will make the connection. If you don’t want to wear a nametag, you can wear a T-shirt with your company logo on it. If you’re a knitter like me, use these handy Ravelry buttons to help people connect you with your user ID on that all-important site.
- Don’t be afraid to approach people. I’m an introvert, so for me, going to an event full of people can be overwhelming. Still, I’ve learned some extrovert skills along the way, and an industry event is the perfect time to put those into practice. At an event like that I make it a point to smile, say hello, and initiate conversations with the other industry professionals that I meet. You never know when one of those strangers might become a friend or a colleague in the future.
- Be approachable. Along those same lines, don’t be afraid to let people approach YOU. Stand with your arms down at your sides (or keep them busy doing something, but don’t cross them in front of you!), greet people when they come up to you, and start up a conversation with anyone who seems interested. If you give people the impression that you’re open and interested in making connections, they’ll meet you halfway.
- Take pictures. I completely failed at this one – the only photo I took was of the yarn I bought at the marketplace. Sometimes we’re living in the moment and we forget to take photos, which is okay because we’re enjoying life rather than trying to Instagram it. But still – some of those photos can be a great way to put faces with names when an event is over, or to forge a connection with someone via social media in the future. So do your best to take photos of your booth and products as well as of the people you meet at the show.
- Follow up with a follow or e-mail. If you meet someone at an event and you’d like to get to know them better, take note of their name (or if possible, get a business card). When you get home, send them an e-mail to let them know you enjoyed meeting them (it’s best to not put a sales pitch in there, until you’ve established a line of communication!). Or if you’re too shy for that, you can follow them on social media. They might just follow you back, but either way now you’ve got a way to stay in touch and possibly develop a personal or professional friendship!
For me, Stitches was an opportunity not only to shop for new yarn, but to reconnect with friends and meet new ones. I met some of my clients in person for the first or second time, which was a real treat. I saw someone in the market who I’d only met once before, but it was a great chance to reconnect with her and spend some time browsing the marketplace together instead of having to go it alone. I also took the opportunity to go to lunch with three other people, two of whom I’d never met before. I thoroughly enjoyed that experience, and met some people who I hope I’ll be able to keep in touch with in the future.
What are your tips for using industry events to the fullest?