If your business is in an industry like food service, transportation, events or tourism, forming relationships with hospitality industry professionals can bring enormous benefits. It’s also a chance to connect with like-minded professionals, track industry trends and enrich your knowledge.
However, expanding your professional network can be challenging. Before you get started, you’ll need a clear, concise understanding of what sets your business apart from competitors and what you can bring to the table.
We’ll explore ways to meet hospitality industry professionals, introduce them to your business and start reaping the rewards of positive industry relationships.
How to network with hospitality industry insiders
Here are nine tips and tricks to help you network with hospitality industry professionals.
1. Build strong brand awareness.
Creating a strong, prominent brand is critical for expanding your network within the hospitality industry. You can’t build crucial relationships with the right people if they don’t know who you are. The idea is to make your business visible enough so that hospitality industry professionals seek you out and want to work with you.
When you build a strong brand, you promote your business, find the right people to work with and make yourself discoverable.
To build strong brand awareness, producing powerful content is crucial. Here are some ideas:
- Create a compelling website design and offer valuable information.
- Generate and share valuable blog content.
- Produce videos.
- Write guest posts on industry blogs.
- Write articles for LinkedIn or industry publications.
Producing quality content showcases your knowledge and connects you with people seeking industry-specific information. Establishing yourself as an expert is an excellent way to network with hospitality industry professionals.
Tip: Video branding is an effective way to build your brand and get noticed. Consider starting a YouTube channel and posting regular videos.
2. Create a robust social media presence.
Social media is a tool for strong brand awareness. Social media networks play a crucial role in drawing traffic to your business and helping hospitality industry professionals recognize you.
Here are some ways to leverage the full potential of social media:
- Expand your social presence. Your business should have accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter at a minimum. Use these channels to build your brand and interact with industry insiders by producing quality social media content. The more followers you amass, the stronger your contact base.
- Follow other professionals strategically. Follow industry insiders with whom you’d like to connect, and engage with them on their social posts. A robust, active and engaged social media presence makes it more likely that other industry professionals know who you are, making it more likely that you’ll connect with the right people.
- Research events. Social media is an excellent tool for researching upcoming industry events and conferences. Find out who will be attending, and connect with them to learn about their industry roles and build relationships.
3. Participate in a networking group.
Networking groups and professional online networks like LinkedIn are vital in meeting the right people in your industry. LinkedIn is a potent networking tool, with more than 830 million members in over 200 countries.
Follow these steps to get the most from LinkedIn:
- Create a LinkedIn business profile. When you create a LinkedIn business profile, you open up a powerful channel for connecting with industry experts to form relationships and explore career opportunities.
- Expand your network. Being a consistent, active LinkedIn member can help you expand your professional network. Grow your network by adding people you come in contact with, even if your connection was brief. You never know when you could help each other out in the future. Additionally, reading other people’s profiles boosts your industry knowledge and exposes you to a network of companies and people you might not have been aware of otherwise.
- Join LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn groups are a concrete way to unite with industry professionals to share insights, ask for help and build strong relationships.
- Map out your career growth. LinkedIn lets you view people’s career histories to discover how they navigated their career paths. This can inspire your career direction.
Aside from online resources like LinkedIn, you can join an in-person networking group such as your local chamber of commerce or your local chapter of Business Network International. Attend meetings and interact with other members of the hospitality industry. Being an active participant in a networking group opens a world of possibilities and paths for advancing in the industry.
Tip: To network on LinkedIn more effectively, follow up with a LinkedIn invitation to strengthen the connection after meeting someone in person.
4. Attend insider events.
Once you’ve made your brand visible, established a social media presence and experienced networking groups, event participation is the next step.
Hospitality industry events like the Welcome Conference and Southern Foodways Symposium are excellent opportunities to connect with experts. These events are full of successful professionals with expertise and contacts to share.
Meeting people face-to-face is much more impactful than sending an email or speaking over the phone. The hospitality industry places high importance on creating experiences and relationships with customers and investors. Therefore, attending events where you can meet industry professionals can contribute to your business’s success while you get to share your passions and get your questions answered.
5. Reach out to industry professionals directly.
Networking online and offline is an excellent initial step, but establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships is crucial. The key to nurturing professional relationships is keeping in touch regularly.
When you find a hospitality professional with whom you’d like to maintain a relationship, reach out to them consistently to prove you want a genuine connection. Don’t feel awkward about getting in touch; reaching out can expand your network and start a mutually beneficial relationship.
6. Host a party.
Often, the best way to get invited to a party is to host one. Try to invite the most interesting professionals you’ve met or would like to meet.
Broaden your network by asking them to recommend other people they find interesting. Whether you own a restaurant or hotel, you can organize an event easily and leverage your contact list to get as many people to come as possible.
Tip: When networking, listen more than you talk. People appreciate those who are actively interested in what they have to say. You may even learn something valuable.
7. Form community partnerships.
The hospitality industry values creating experiences and relationships with customers and other businesses. These shared experiences stimulate customer loyalty and contribute to your business’s success. Reaching out to another business is an excellent opportunity to create a shared experience and form a strategic partnership that benefits you both.
Fostering strategic partnerships is a powerful way to connect with industry insiders. Additionally, proposing a partnership with another business can help you become part of a larger community. Successful partnerships can expand your client base and professional network, and the more strategic relationships you form, the larger your network can grow.
8. Don’t underestimate the power of informal chats.
Engage in conversations online and offline. Keep in mind that whether online or offline, most social networking opportunities provide a casual approach to connecting with like-minded people. However, what might seem like an informal chat is often a window to many opportunities and potential ways to work together with industry peers.
9. Participate in industry associations.
While you may already be a member of an industry association like the Institute of Hospitality, joining is just a start. To really get a bang for your membership buck, become an active participant. For example, attend association events as a volunteer or featured speaker.
Volunteer for a leadership position or submit articles for the association website or publication. This extra effort instantly gives you tremendous visibility within the hospitality industry and identifies you as a leader and someone with something important to say.
Dos and don’ts of networking with hospitality professionals
Keep the following ideas in mind when networking with hospitality professionals.
- Use active listening – nodding, smiling and responding to the other person.
- Ask open-ended questions to spur conversation.
- Send a follow-up email after meeting someone or connecting online, thanking them for connecting and proposing the next steps.
- Offer to help other hospitality professionals reach their goals. This will make them more likely to want to return the favor.
- Act positive and confident when you make initial contact with a professional.
- Be truthful when talking about your business; it can cause a lot of damage if you are caught in a lie.
- Be authentic. The real you is much more interesting than any persona you create.
- Don’t do all of the talking yourself. You don’t want to appear self-centered.
- Never use networking meetings as a chance to close a deal with a hard sell.
- Don’t avoid networking events because you’re afraid your competition will be there.
- Don’t leave your LinkedIn profile static. Update it periodically with news and accomplishments.
- Never network unprepared. Practice your elevator pitch, and research professionals ahead of time if possible.
- Don’t pop from one person to another at an event. No one likes to talk to someone who is looking over their shoulder for the next person.
Rich Sharptek contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.