For many people, networking doesn’t come naturally, but it is a skill that can be learned. It’s one of those things in life that adheres to the adage – the more you do it, the better you get at it. Whether you want to find a job in the cannabis industry or strengthen your business’ cannabis industry supply chain, effectively networking with other professionals can help you reach your goals.
Today, one of the best ways to build your business (or career) in the cannabis industry is by networking with other cannabis professionals. Cannabis is an industry that has grown exponentially in recent years, but it’s still very young. Meeting cannabis professionals and building relationships with them – both in person and virtually – is still a critical part of establishing and expanding your own cannabis business and brand.
To help you start networking in the cannabis industry, following are tips to set yourself up for success.
Get Ready to Network
The first step to networking successfully is to do your homework and get prepared. There are four main parts of networking preparation: research, establishing your online profile, developing your messages, and creating your takeaway. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Extensive research is required before you start networking in any industry, and this includes the cannabis industry. That means you need to start learning about cannabis business operations, licensing, the supply chain, laws, terminology, and more. The Cannabiz Media blog is a great place to learn about cannabis licensing!
2. Establish Your Online Profile
When someone wants to learn about another professional, a brand, or a business, the first place they typically go is the internet. Specifically, they search for that person, brand, or business using Google or their preferred search engine. Another first-stop when trying to learn about a person is LinkedIn and other social media sites.
With that said, what do people find when they search for you online? What links come up on the first page of Google search results when you search for your name, your brand name, or your business name? And what if someone searches for you on LinkedIn or cannabis-specific social media sites? Do the results accurately reflect you, your brand, and your business? Are the results what you want people to find?
Now is the time to start publishing content, updating your website, and creating an amazing LinkedIn Profile so anyone who looks for you online finds what you want them to! For cannabis businesses, you can also claim your license in the Cannabiz Media License Database so anyone searching for your business finds the details about you and your brand that you want them to know.
3. Develop Your Messages
What will you say to people when you start networking? You need to be prepared with an ice-breaker introduction and craft an elevator pitch that piques people’s interest.
This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. You need to craft multiple introductions and elevator pitches for different types of people who you might network with. For example, you wouldn’t say the same things to a potential investor that you would to a potential service provider for your business.
4. Create Your Takeaway
You always need to have a tangible takeaway available to give to key contacts when you meet them face-to-face. If you don’t have a tangible takeaway, you run the risk of being forgotten.
Imagine you’re at a cannabis industry conference and meet dozens of people. You won’t be able to remember all of them when you get home, and you won’t be able to follow up with them to further build relationships with them – unless they gave you a takeaway like a business card or brochure.
The same is true for the people who meet you at networking events. They may not remember you or know how to contact you after the event unless you give them a takeaway. Therefore, create business cards and/or a brochure – even if your cannabis business isn’t operational yet. You need to give people a tangible way to remember you.
And don’t forget to ask other people for their business cards and brochures as well. Use them to take notes about people so you don’t forget the details when it’s time to follow up.
Make a Plan
Don’t jump into networking without a strategy and a plan to execute that strategy. Without a networking strategy and plan, you’ll waste a lot of time and money.
Your plan should establish clear goals for each networking opportunity or event. For example, you may set a goal to speak with a certain number of cultivation license holders or to meet a specific cannabis industry influencer.
In order to develop your networking plans, you’ll need to research each event you attend (either in person or online) in advance and get an idea of who will be there, what the focus of the event is, and who the event is for. This is crucial so you can tailor your networking plan and your elevator pitch to be as relevant and useful as possible.
Practice and Prepare
Don’t start networking until you’ve practiced your ice-breaker introduction and elevator pitch for a variety of people. Tailor your conversations to each event and person, and be mindful of presenting yourself as professionally as possible.
One of the biggest challenges for many people when it comes to networking is starting conversations with strangers. Here are some simple conversation starters that can help you feel more confident when you approach a new person:
- How long have you been in the cannabis industry?
- What do you do?
- Where do you work?
- Where are you from?
- What’s your favorite thing about the cannabis industry?
- What’s your biggest challenge working in this industry?
- What made you decide to come to this event?
- Do you attend a lot of cannabis industry events?
- Have you come to this event before? Last year? Last month?
- How did you get into the cannabis industry? What did you do before?
- Have you been to this venue before?
Once you start a conversation, don’t forget that when you’re networking, you should try to build relationships, not business opportunities. Try to be useful and helpful without focusing on closing a deal.
In addition, think about your body language and actions while you’re networking. Avoid the food, so you don’t have to talk with food in your mouth. If name tags were given, wear yours. Ask questions, smile, and make eye contact.
Practice, practice, practice!
Seek out Networking Opportunities
Use social media before and after you attend a networking event to get even more from your efforts. Connect with event organizers and key people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and so on. Share content related to the event, use the event hashtags, and tag people in your posts. Also, publish pictures, videos, and messages from the event.
In other words, use social media to enhance and expand your face-to-face networking efforts before, during, and after each event you attend.
While you’re at a cannabis conference, seek out networking opportunities. Attend any scheduled networking events during the conference, but don’t stop there. Be present at lunches and dinners, speak with people on the expo floor, and make a point of not attending every educational session. If you’re in sessions all day, you’ll have less time to meet and talk to people.
Follow Up and Leverage the Mere Exposure Effect
Did you know there is a psychological principle called the mere exposure effect (also called the familiarity effect) that says repeatedly exposing someone to a thing or idea (or you) increases the chance that they’ll like it?
Based on this theory, following up is critical to networking success. Even if someone doesn’t instantly respond to your follow-up, by repeatedly exposing them to you, your content, and the value you bring to them (without overdoing it), they’ll grow to like you more. Ultimately, that can lead to business relationships, opportunities, and sales.
Therefore, at the end of each day at a networking event, take some time to debrief. Review the people you spoke with and make a plan to follow up. Follow and engage with them on social media and send personalized email messages to continue your conversations.
If you don’t have time to email everyone you connected with at a networking event right away, make sure you jot notes on the back of each business card or in a document so you remember who they were, what you talked about, and topics you want to discuss with them in the future.
Ideally, you should follow up with each person within a few days of meeting them or within a week at the most. In your follow-up messages, mention something to remind them of who you are and try to set up phone calls or in-person meetings with important business connections.
The key to following up is to be personable and authentic. That means you shouldn’t send template messages to everyone you met through your email marketing software. Instead, send personalized messages directly to each person.
After you connect with each person on social media, start sharing and commenting on their posts. As the mere exposure effect says, it’s important to repeatedly expose people to you and the value you bring in order to increase the chances that they’ll grow to like you.
Importantly, don’t oversell. You’ll get better results in the long run if you if focus on building relationships. The time to sell will come later.
Key Takeaways about Networking in the Cannabis Industry
If you follow the tips above and focus on doing your research, making a plan, preparing, practicing, and following up, you’ll be on your way to networking success. To learn even more, be sure to read 5 Ways to be Successful at Cannabis Business Meetings and Networking Events.
Remember, the cannabis industry is just like other industries when it comes to business networking. Understand the industry, learn the challenges cannabis professionals face, and present yourself as a helpful resource. In time, you’ll build relationships through networking that turn into lucrative career and business opportunities.
To find cannabis license holders for networking, subscribe to the Cannabiz Media License Database. Schedule a demo to see how it can help you reach your goals.
Originally published 6/18/19. Updated 7/31/20.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. She has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.