When Community Doesn't Come Easily: Bridging the Community Gap
A couple of weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on why building community in the wedding industry feels really hard. (If you haven’t read that post yet, head here before reading any further. And if you never want to miss a post or update again, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter!)
This week, I'm so excited to share a few concrete ideas on how to bridge the gap between you and your fellow vendors. When we intentionally seek out our industry peers, we can foster engaging community, create a thriving local industry, and just genuinely like the people we get to work with! I’m a total big-picture thinker, so I’m going to share a big idea that I executed, but I’ll also share some practical ideas for those of you who want something more manageable that you can get started on today.
Make sure you read to the VERY END for access to a SUPER USEFUL community-building tool. AND IT'S FREE.
In 2015, I started hosting a dinner for local creatives in the industry. I called it the ‘Together Dinner,’ as it was a time where we could all come together, putting aside competition and comparison, to be together, learn from each other, and be at the receiving end of a beautiful, styled dinner.
To me, our local wedding community is like the ivy that covers a beautiful brick wall. The wall of ivy might look like a giant sea of green, but it didn’t start out that way. At one point, the ivy started as tiny, individual plants that, over time, grew and intertwined to create a strong and resilient ivy wall. That’s how we are, as a local wedding industry. We rely on each other, and our skills and specialties intertwine and cross over. Some of us create beautiful paper goods, or take stunning photographs, or set up perfect mood lighting, or design luscious florals. The more we recognize and appreciate our need for each other, the more we can thrive individually and corporately.
Since we all spend so much time putting together magical events for our clients, I figured it was time that we treat ourselves to a beautiful dinner.
Let me tell you something, things change when you share a meal with someone. Since our first Together Dinner (view the blogs on this dinner here and here), I’ve seen vendors in our industry grab breakfast together, send each other encouraging notes, or leave sweet, genuine comments on social media posts. Once, during a wedding set-up, a Together Dinner attendee put down her camera to help me lug buckets of flowers into a venue in the pouring rain.
When you’re sitting elbow to elbow with someone, competition and petty grudges don’t seem as important, and that can totally change the feel of an event, and the future of your local industry.
If your local vendors need a kick-start to create a community atmosphere, consider hosting your own industry gathering! If you need some inspiration, check out the hashtag #jztogetherdinner on instagram! Whenever your slow season is, make the most of it. Sit down with your local community and make friends out of vendors and head into this season excited to collaborate on each wedding.
Maybe it’s not your personality or gift to plan a big dinner for a bunch of people you don’t know. That’s fine! That’s not the only way to connect and build bridges. Here are some ideas for small steps to build community.
Identify your own needs and anticipate those needs in others.
When we’re a few months deep into wedding season, we could all use someone checking in on us. When you find yourself leaving a long planning meeting, craving some ice cream or a glass of wine, you can bet a vendor friend is feeling the same way. Maybe Uber Eats them their favorite meal (wish we had Uber Eats here in Arkansas! Jealous of you big city people.) If you’re feeling sore and tired after an intense installation setup, feeling like you could use a good massage or pedicure, you can bet one of your florist friends feels the same way. Call a local nail salon and have a gift card sent to him or her. Maybe half way through the season, you find yourself a great virtual assistant and it’s totally revolutionizing your workflow. Why don’t you share your new insights with some friends you know could use it?
Who doesn’t love getting an unexpected gift? Every November, my annual planning month, I get a bunch of really pretty note cards. If I’m working with a vendor I’d love to work with again, I’ll hand them the card in person as I’m finishing my set-up. I tell them how much I’ve loved working and I stick a little gift card in there too, even if it’s just $10 to Starbucks. Once I start getting referrals from these favorite vendors, I send them a visa gift card for 1% of the total sale. Keep in mind, that might not be a huge amount. I once gave a photographer a $20 visa gift card after she sent a client my way who spent two thousand dollars. She continued to refer me, and I continued to give her gift cards. After a certain 2018 wedding, I was thrilled to hand her a $1,200 gift card. Do the math on that one!
They’re not expecting a kick-back, but I love showing genuine gratitude for the business vendors send my way! Almost all of my favorite clients have found me through vendor recommendations!
Unfollow on Instagram, and reach out in real life.
Sometimes, it’s just not the healthiest thing for us to follow local vendors on social media, especially when that vendor shares our same client pool. If you’re a photographer and you can’t look at another photographer’s page without feeling discouraged that you can’t perfect that dreamy, filmy edit like they can, or you’re a floral designer and you can’t stop thinking about why that couple booked another local designer instead of you, then you need to unfollow!
Just do it.
If you need to, reach out to the vendors you’re unfollowing and say something like this--
“Hey, ________, if you noticed I unfollowed you on instagram, it’s not because I don’t love your work! In order to create my best original work for my clients, I’ve decided not to follow anyone in our local wedding industry. I can’t wait to continue supporting each other and collaborating on events, and of course I’ll still credit and tag you whenever I post! Thanks for understanding!”
Speak the words.
We’ve all had times when we feel like someone is better at something than we are. That’s because they are. Remember, we can’t all be great at everything; we need each other’s gifts to grow and thrive.
If you have specific things that you admire in your local vendors (including local competition), write them a letter or email encouraging them about that thing instead of festering in jealousy. If you’re envious of someone and you keep it secret, it can fester. If you instead decide to celebrate that person for what they’re great at, the jealousy loses its power. When you recognize yourself feeling jealous or fighting comparison, lean in. Get real close to whoever you’re feeling insecure about. Again, the closer you get to someone, the harder it is to dislike them. And there’s enough room at the table for everyone.
Sometimes, however, we might feel justified anger or resentment towards someone in our industry. If that happens and you feel like you can’t just ignore it, try writing a letter or drafting an email venting your frustrations. Get it all out. Then, don’t send the letter. Sometimes, we just need to get the anger out of our bodies and onto paper, and then we’re able to move on. I’ve had to do this before and it totally helps!
Focus on your own why.
You have to know why you’re doing this-- why you’re passionate about your work. And it has to be specific. If you’re freaking out right now because you don’t know your why or even what that means, check out this awesome video!
If just ‘being #1’ in your industry is your motivator, then any threat to that will feel debilitating. When you’re specific about your why, you can turn your attention to meeting the specific industry needs that you feel are yours to own, and you can be happy when other vendors find their niche too. I know that my motivation is to have as much time with my family as possible. Every decision I make is filtered through that lens. Then , if (and when) I don’t get every wedding, I genuinely. Don't. Care. I remember that I don’t actually want every wedding. I just want the right weddings.
When you don’t have the emotional or physical energy to do anything else, just take a moment to focus on your why! It’ll allow you to realign your intentions and celebrate others.
Comment below with some ideas you have to build community! We’ll feature some of our favorite ideas in our instagram stories. And make sure to tune in to our instagram this week to hear Jessica talk more about this LIVE!
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