8 Networking Tips for Cannabis Professionals
Dust off the business cards, stretch your legs, and freshen your breath: The New England Cannabis Convention (NECANN) is this weekend! As we look forward to the world of east coast cannabis convening in Boston for our largest B2B and B2C cannabis industry event of the year (and the afterparties!), it is time to get serious about planning who you want to meet, what you will talk about, and how you’ll follow up.
Whether you are an experienced professional with a rich network of contacts, or this is your very first big networking event, preparation and expectation-setting will help ease some of the pressure and anxiety that can come with opening or maintaining a conversation with a stranger, someone you admire, or a potential business collaborator you seek to meet. And in an ascending industry like cannabis where everyone is still learning, it can be a real joy to get out there to meet new people, hear new perspectives, and build an inclusive network of experts and influential colleagues to support your professional journey for years to come.
Read on for some tips that have been helpful to me in the development of my network and business.
1. Know your purpose. What are you trying to achieve? What are you trying to fix? Who are you trying to be? When you know who you are and what your professional goals are, you can identify events that unite the thought leaders, vendors, and attendees you need or want to meet to achieve your goals. This can be especially helpful in determining which conference sessions, ancillary networking events, and afterparties to attend.
Don’t waste time and money going to events that don’t align with your professional goals. Get in the rooms with the people and businesses that make sense for your business and have a plan for how you will approach them before, at, and/or after the event in a respectful and mutually beneficial way
2. Remember: A failure to plan is a plan to fail.
Most events worth attending will have a website displaying an agenda and expo hall map. (If an agenda and list of exhibitors are not available, this step is moot and the event is likely poorly organized.) Use these tools to identify the educational sessions you want to attend, the speakers you’d like to meet, and the businesses you want to engage. Pick 5 targets per day of the conference and develop a plan to meet these people by reviewing the programming agenda and expo hall floor plan.
Look at your social media feeds, too, and engage with your contacts who mention their attendance or other participation at the event. A quick coffee or walk on the expo hall floor together can be a goldmine of information and additional introductions. Whatever you ask of someone, make it quick and easy for them to agree.
3. Clean up your online presence before you go.
Your online presence, e.g., your LinkedIn profile, website, news mentions, criminal proceedings, and pictures you’ve posted over the past 20 years, is a huge and publicly visible part of your personal brand. What people see, people believe. If you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile since pre-Covid, or your website has a pre-2023 copyright date in the footer, you may give the impression that you haven’t done anything productive or notable. Take 15 minutes to update your website, refresh your social media profile summaries, and add current information to help the people you meet understand the value and synergies you provide today.
Update your profile pictures to current images that realistically look like who you are and how you present yourself today so that people can recognize you more readily out in public or after an initial meeting. Publish a post to inform your network that you are attending the event and that you are open to meeting with them there. Remember to keep your online presence updated, too! Contact me for support refreshing your online presence.
4. Go it alone.
One of the things I love most about working in the cannabis industry is the rich community of like-minded friends and trustworthy professionals with whom I get to work. While sticking with your friends at an event can be incredibly fun and enriching, you will be well-served by spending some time walking around by yourself or with a business partner that shares your business development goals, thereby opening yourself up to new conversations and contacts.
When you see someone else standing alone, make eye contact, smile, and introduce yourself. A great icebreaker as simple as “Hi, I’m Beth, what’s your name?” or “What a great crowd! What brought you here today?” can go a long way.
5. Listen more than you talk (at first)
People love to talk about themselves: Harvard neuroscientists have shown talking about oneself can be as rewarding as sex, cocaine, and chocolate! So, give people a nice dose of comfort by asking questions and listening attentively.
You can learn a person's important essentials from their name tag, including title and company, so use those little factoids to break the ice. I love to say a person’s name when I meet them, as in “Hi Maria, I’m Beth Waterfall. Tell me more about your work at ABC Company!” Hearing their name can help people feel acknowledged and more connected to you and the conversation.
6. Be kind.
Networking and meeting new people in an unfamiliar environment can be intimidating. For some, networking events are tremendously stressful, which can lead to stuttering, spilling wine, or other clumsy or otherwise imperfect incidents. Remember that everyone is human, and especially in cannabis, we can’t judge a book by its cover. Be forgiving and gracious. Smile. Show kindness to everyone in the room -- tip your servers!
And when you see someone standing alone, engage them. They may not be ready to buy your product or service, and they may not be a strategic connection for your business right now, but they will remember your warm welcome and how you made them feel more comfortable. After almost eight years in cannabis, I still remember and hold dear some of the earliest conversations I had with people who became clients, friends, or collaborators, and the subsequent introductions and opportunities those early introductions and conversations continue to produce for ELEVATE Northeast and my business development consulting work.
7. Go outside of cannabis!
As the cannabis industry matures and more states regulate the production and sale of cannabis goods, it becomes clearer that cannabis really is “just another business” with many of the same or similar business needs and challenges as other industries. Whether it’s technology, energy consumption, human resources, financial services, or hospitality, there is something to be learned from experienced operators facing similar operational challenges or growing pains.
You may even find yourself the most interesting person in the room when it isn’t a “cannabis event.” Be the expert in the room, but make sure you enter that room knowing there are other people with whom you can build or grow your business or career in cannabis.
8. Follow up
Odds are you will meet some people who you want to follow up with and others who may not be immediately relevant to your career or business pursuits. Keep track of who you meet, create a database in which you can maintain notes about strategic relationships, and follow-up with them after the event. When you get a business card, try to write down something unique about your conversation with that individual so you can reference it and stand out when you follow up.
And when you do follow-up, provide value. This can be as simple as sharing an invitation to another upcoming event that you talked about with a new contact or which you believe they may benefit from attending, or sharing a news article that provides helpful information relating to a topic that is important to that contact.
Go get 'em!
Above all, when it comes to networking, just do it. At even the worst networking events, you will meet someone or learn something, even if what you learn is that the event isn’t worth your time in the future. Know yourself, your intentions, and the key people and businesses involved with the event, and step right up!
And remember, we are all some degree of new in cannabis. Most of us remember what it is like to be the new person in the room and will pay it forward and embrace the connection if your intentions are good and you are kind. This is cannabis, after all! Enjoy it -- and don't forget your business cards!