I think the first thing to mention, the rule which I stand by, is to go into this kind of event expecting nothing in return. Even before I decided to focus all my attention on commercial pet photography, I was already building relationships within the pet industry. I genuinely loved hearing about the people behind the brands and how they started.

As an example, I got to know The Innocent Pet Company many years ago because their treats were a revelation to me – high end, luxury, high meat content – a quality product which I wanted to gift to my pet portrait clients. I championed the company when I could, and when I decided to go down the pet brand photography path, they were the first people I approached. We’ve now had several shoots together, and more in the pipeline!

Networking has got a bit of a bad rep over the last few years. When I googled ‘what do people think about networking’ the top result was a page by St Olafs collage entitled ‘Why are people often uncomfortable with the word Networking’ The first paragraph reads: “Many people are uncomfortable with the word “networking.”  When they think of networking, they imagine a pushy, aggressive person who connects with people to achieve selfish goals and gives nothing back.  In other words, when many people think of networking, they think of “using” people.”

I was probably one of those people who shuddered at the thought of networking but I’ve realised recently that I have a super power, and that power is called Relationship Building.

I hadn’t really thought about it as a super power, but after speaking to a few people who were impressed that I had clients I’ve been working with for 8+ years, I started looking at what I was doing and why it was working, and after booking a call with FOMO creator May King Tsang on how I can use this to my advantage, we came up with a strategy (another word which usually makes me shudder) on how, as someone who feels a bit awkward about approaching people, I was going to create a buzz around Crufts.

Unleash the Power of Networking: A Mindful Approach to Making Meaningful Connections with Busy Stallholders at Crufts

Pre Networking

About 2 weeks before Crufts, I started searching the hashtag on socials, including LinkedIn and enthusiastically engaging with brands and people whose values seemed to align with my own. I could have just engaged with as many as possible which would have been less time consuming, but there was a point to doing a bit of high end research at the start, which will be revealed later!

I didn’t just ‘like’, and I tried not to leave one word comments because I wanted to start conversations. Again, a bit more time consuming, but if you want to build longer term relationships, people need to remember you, and just putting ‘great!’ as a comment isn’t something they will remember you by.

Make it about them, not you

On the call with May King, I started thinking about how I could actually give some value to the people I wanted to speak to, and so came about a free Crufts content offer.

I know how busy it can get on stalls at this kind of event, and I know that content can go out of the window so I published an offer that I would come and take photos and videos, for free, of the stall, the dogs coming to the stall and interactions with customers – I quickly got my target filled and had to close the offer! This meant that people not only knew who I was, but were expecting me! As an introvert, this was a dream come true.

So think about how you can help those people you want to meet. Remember they are people and not a pay cheque. Can you take a box of sweets or biscuits to keep up their energy? Is there something you, as an expert can, do to help during, pre or post Crufts?

Be recognisable in advance

I got lucky with this one. I attended the Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday event a week earlier, and before the event someone posted a brilliant glowing lanyard with their logo and QR code from Surefyre Designs. I missed seeing them at the event, but as soon as I got back I ordered one. I’m a bit of a nerd and got far too excited about when it arrived and started posting it on Social – because it was something a bit different it became a real talking point.

The lovely Helena from Poochie Park posted that she had freshly dyed purple hair, and guess what, I spotted her in the vast expanse of Crufts!

Obviously you don’t need to be that extreme, branded clothing can work too, but remember there will be a lot of people with branded items, so can you make it stand out a little? What ever you do, show it on social media before and, talk about it, so you are almost priming people to recognise you.

On the Day

Go early

I got to Crufts as early as I could, it would have been earlier if it wasn’t for traffic! It’s less likely to be busy at the start, I also went on the Thursday to network as that’s a slower day.

Make it about them, not you

I know I have said this before, but it needs saying again. People pay a lot of money for stalls, and the last thing they want is someone selling to them when the reason they came is to engage with new and existing customers and spread the word about their amazing product or service.

Know their business.

If you really want to build a connection, know their business and be genuinely interested – you can’t fake this stuff. Every brand I went to at Crufts, there was something I admired about their product. As an example, I’ve known about The Golden Paste Company for a while and I am blown away by the quality of their ingredients and how they talk about how they source the Tumeric on their website, or the that SnifSnax were being sustainable years before it became more mainstream.

Don’t give out your business card

I know this might seem counter intuitive, but unless someone asked, or showed a genuine interest, I didn’t give out a card. I want to work with people and brands who want to work with me and are at the right place at the right time, and so when I did give out my flyer, I knew it was because they wanted it.

Don’t take up too much time

However you decide to approach and network with brands at Crufts, don’t assume just because the stall is quiet that they don’t have other things to do. Be mindful of the time you are taking up.

Be aware of customers

I was very conscious of customers coming to the stand, and if I was chatting to the people on the stall – I’d excuse myself and say I’d come back later, the customers are much more important than me! Or if they are talking to customers already, I’d chat to other customers who were waiting, talking about the brand (because you have done the pre-networking research!), what we love about them – it helps create an experience for the customers while they are waiting, and also helps keep them on the stand for the stall holders!

Buy from them

If you are able, buy from the brand while you are there. It shows that you really do love what they do, and are willing to spend money on it. It also shows that it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Can you make introductions?

I made several introductions between brands while I was at Crufts, people who I thought might be able to help each other out, have a collaboration or somehow work together.

Create a buzz by meeting with other pet industry proffesionals.

I was lucky enough to be part of a SBS winners WhatsApp group set up by Rachel Spencer who has the brilliant Pets Get Visible membership – so those of us who were going to Crufts decided to meet up, and we invited a few other pet businesses brands too. It was nice and informal, but if you are in the pet industry, you know how rare it is to get to meet other pet professionals face to face and it’s a real treat!

Get people talking about it before hand, the more the merrier, and remember to tag and share a group photo so that you spread the love.

What would I do differently next time?

I’d start the pre networking earlier, gentle touch points before starting the conversations about 3 weeks before.

When it comes to the my actual offering, I’m going to approach more brands who I really want to work to see if they would like to use the offer before opening up it up to others. I will be more specific with the photography shots I take as I know what is more useful to the brands. I’d also print of a map of the halls because I think I spent just as much time wandering round lost as I did talking to people!

Final thoughts

My main reason for networking in this way is that I have never really felt comfortable about just going up to someone and introducing myself to people I’d like to work with to talk about how I can help them. Believe me, I’ve attempted many different ‘tried and tested’ techniques, which I’m sure work for some people, but just made me feel cringy and awkward.

I really believe that although this face to face contact can be so impactful if done in the right way.

Further reading

Never Eat Alone – this book made me so happy as it reinforces a lot of the type of Networking aka Relationship Building I already do.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People – not an easy or light read, but one you will bookmark with 100’s of tabs and go back to constantly.

How to win friends and influence people – it sounds a bit like a book which might use underhand ways, but it’s another brilliant book about how to build genuine connections and how to bring about win win situations.

I’d love to know if you found this helpful and if you have any networking tips of your own!

Kerry x