There is a smorgasbord of groups offering entrepreneurs, small business owners and professionals the opportunity to make important new contacts, both in person and online. But if your enterprise caters for a more obscure industry then trying to find the right connections through traditional networking can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. No matter how weird or wonderful your business, however, there’s a niche networking opportunity for you.
From a gravedigger of the year award to a funeral cake competition, the annual Ideal Death Show is the ultimate event to mingle with other entrepreneurs involved in the business of marking a person’s passing. Coffin makers and embalmers rub shoulders with green burial advocates to not only celebrate an industry worth about £1bn a year in the UK but to also build business connections.
For mortician Carla Valentine a year was too long to wait to catch up with peers in the sector so she decided to launch a website. Dead Meet is a dating and networking site for people in the death industry. It’s Match.com meets LinkedIn.
Valentine, a technical assistant curator at Barts Pathology Museum in Smithfield, London, had the idea while researching the link between sex and death for a masters degree. “I just thought surely there is a dating site for morticians, so I had a look and there wasn’t. I thought I have got to be the one to create this,” she says.
“It was also because I was looking for speakers at events at my museum and wondered how I could find an embalmer or other specialist and I thought it would be great if there was a network of all these people.”
Since launching in 2014, the site has grown to more than 5,000 members worldwide. Valentine says it is used by professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners in fields from mortuary science to pathology, all sharing ideas on best practice and comparing techniques used in their specialist fields. Some use it to find out more about breaking into the industry, to search for people they can partner with for work, and post events. Valentine hopes the site will help people in the industry connect more easily.
Ariel wouldn’t have been such a fish out of water if the Little Mermaid had known about a watery convention held in Cary, North Carolina in the US. More than 300 men and women swim upstream to Merfest every year and celebrate all things mermaid (and merman).
Attendees squeeze their legs into elaborate fish tails for the event which has workshops on underwater modelling and the opportunity to meet other mer-preneurs who, believe it or not, make a living from swimming in glass tanks for the viewing public. There are approximately 1,000 people in the US who make a living this way, according to an estimate by Fast Company. With tails setting customers back around $2,700 (£1,800) and courses that teach students the art of being a mermaid, it’s a small but thriving industry.
Merfest isn’t the only way mer business owners can meet each other. The MerDirectory is a one-stop shop of all things under the sea and there’s even an interactive map to help you find your nearest freelance performer or mer-related enterprise.
Business owners and entrepreneurs who have cut their teeth on the alternative scene as musicians, tattooists and gothic clothing retailers flock to VampireFreaks to network and find customers for their niche products.
The website was created by Jet Berelson in 1999 and has grown from a small number of forums dedicated to Gothic music to a social network with millions of members. As well as being a popular message board for promoting and discussing all things Gothic and vampiric, the website also features event pages, music interviews, models, and design contests. The site even boasts its own digital music and clothing store.
Events for vamp business owners and enthusiasts to mingle include World Goth Day and barbecues.
Dressing and sauces
The Association of Dressings and Sauces (ADS) was founded in 1926 and is celebrating its 90th birthday this year. Its mission was to ensure there were good quality products being manufactured throughout the industry and represents almost every type of condiment. “We don’t do ketchup though,” Jeannie Milewski, executive director of ADS, is quick to point out.
But membership offers more than just the chance to hear the latest breaking news about mayonnaise or mustard. The association’s community of small, medium and large businesses also have the opportunity to network with other professionals in the sector – something that Milewski admits can be challenging in such a niche industry.
These saucy entrepreneurs catch up twice a year at ADS meetings – once in the spring for a technical conference or those focused on research and development, packaging and quality control, and then a more general annual meeting in the autumn. Milewski explains that while the talks and workshops are educational, members – including both manufacturers and suppliers – mainly attend for networking.
She says: “The people you are seeing are selling similar products to you – packaging, eggs, oil and seasoning, basically whatever you can think of that will go into a dressing or sauce. It’s a great way for them to meet some potential customers.”
One of the main networking opportunities is the opening reception and dinner, she adds. Because table seating is random, attendees are able to meet new people. And if formal conferences and dinners aren’t your thing, then the association also holds an annual golf tournament where members can practise their swing and hopefully score a few business birdies.
The psychic services industry is a multi-billion pound operation, including palmistry, numerology (the significance of numbers) and of course astrology. Whether it is written in the stars or not, making a living from divining the movement of celestial bodies requires a strong network of contacts and clients.
Carolyne Faulkner, founder of Dynamic Astrology Ltd, who left a job in a large entertainment company 10 years ago to pursue her passion for astrology, claims one of the biggest events in many astrologists’ networking calendar is the annual Astrological Association’s conference. “Anyone who’s anyone goes there,” she says.
The programme covers everything from astrological chart reading to the history of the field. But while it may be the place to be seen and heard by some of the biggest names in the business, it wasn’t where she grew her own client base. Networking in private members clubs such as Soho House, where she was hired to host events and talks, was more effective for meeting clients, says Faulkner.
“I have had collaborations with lots of the members there because it is such a creative place.”
Faulkner claims that although many astrologers are highly protective of their work and professional contacts, there are plenty of online forums where kindred spirits in the industry can meet and share ideas.
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