I have met brokers, retailers, advertising execs and many more people just by opening my mouth at the right time. I attended a NASCAR race not long ago, and brought some small 4oz bottles to hand out in the parking lot to fellow tailgaters. Wouldn't you know, I handed a bottle to one guy and he started grilling me (sorry, no pun intended... this time) about the product. After getting some details and tasting my product, he asked me "do you have a broker yet?" Bingo. I suddenly find that I'm chatting with a rep for one of the biggest brokers in the country. Now, I am FAR from needing a broker yet, I don't have my first batch ready from my copacker yet, but I have his contact info for when I need it.
Earlier this summer, I was touring the Cabot Creamery in Vermont with my family and some dear friends. At the end of the tour there's a tasting room where you can sample their amazing flavors of award-winning cheese. I over heard a guy and his wife talking about one of the spicy cheeses, just as I was grabbing a half-pound to buy from the display case. I started chatting with them and before I left had his business card and promised to send him a sample. As it turns out he's head of advertising sales for a major radio station in New York City. Another card to file for later.
A few tips in this regard:
1) Develop and perfect a captivating "Elevator Speech" or "Elevator Pitch". I won't instruct you on how to do this, there is plenty of info on what this is and how to do it online. Basically you need to come up with a killer 30 second blurb about your product and/or business. The principle is if you have just a 30 second elevator ride to explain your project and interest someone in it, can you do it?
2) Always, and I mean always have a business card on hand. Even if your company doesn't yet have an official address or phone, or you haven't yet set up your LLC or anything, at least have your name and personal email on a card you can hand out. I made this mistake more than once and looked kinda stupid. I had them hooked with a great elevator speech, then lost them because I didn't have my contact info handy. They call it an elevator speech for a reason; sometimes all you get is 30 seconds. In the time it takes you to fumble around for a pen (or worse, expect them to), you've already lost them. They're now less impressed with you and your product than if you hadn't opened your mouth. Be prepared.
3) Be confident without being cocky. I find people are very intrigued and interested when I start simply with "...actually I make my own hot sauce. We're in the process of bringing it to market right now." I don't say "I make the best sauce in the world, every thing else is crap and were going to revolutionize the industry!" No. Don't go there. I don't know if it's the humble nature of being just a guy trying to get his product on the market, or if it's just that folks like the thought of being able to see that product on the shelf a year from now and tell their friends, "Hey, I met this guy back when he was just getting started!", or if it's just the whole American Dream thing. I just know from opening my mouth for the last 4 years that people get excited and will almost always want to know more, when you tell them you're trying to put your product out there.
4) When possible, have samples ready to hand out. The best way to captivate someone is to give them a sample then and there. Obviously there are times and places when this isn't practical or appropriate, but you get the gist. Once I have my first run done, I plan to have a case or two of 4 ounce samples in both of our cars, that way I can always say "If you have a second I can just run to my car and grab you a sample".
I'll post more ideas on this as the come. For now, this batch is done!