Welcome to the Cannabis Industry, Nerds: 8 Tips for Success

As my twitter followers probably noticed, in the past 3-4 months I've unexpectedly become "stoner mags." While suddenly going from a relative teetotaler and drugs prude to a daily marijuana user is not the usual kind of life change that comes with turning 32, it's really working out well for me. I'm off my SSRI's, off my anxiety meds (both with the guidance of my therapist), in way less fibro pain than I used to be, and blossoming professionally in an industry that values solid professional skills AND a chill vibe.

Lately, a lot of people have been asking me for guidance on how to get into the field, which feels kind of silly for a relative newb such as myself, but the point of this post is to tell you what I did, and why it worked for me. These are all traits I've developed over time that have been directly pointed out as positive things about me by my peers, and opened up many opportunities in the industry. 

1. Be Professional. This seems obvious, but your professional skillsets like following up with texts or emails after meetings, gently but persistently getting a confirmation or commitment from somebody, calling if you're going to be late, and having prompt follow-through on tasks goes REALLY far in this industry. It's important to recognize many of the oldest and most established players came into it from the underground world, and a not insignificant amount of hiring has been based on who's around, knows weed, and needs a job, and doesn't mind that the industry is chaotic with changing laws and often only pays in cash. Basic professional courtesies are often appreciated by folks who hire teams, as it provides structure and reliability that demonstrates you're trustworthy. If you don't yet know basic professional skills, that's okay! There's ample business etiquette books on the market, and e-courses, and probably I'll write something up myself eventually if there's demand. 

2. Be Chill. Okay so now that you've crossed your t's and dotted your i's, chill out a little bit. This industry is fast paced on a broad scale, but it's important to have a go-with-the-flow attitude for day to day interactions. This is a little bit of a challenge for perpetually anxious me, but I honestly feel like what you practice all day is what you bring home after work, and being in an environment where I need to flex myself to unexpected meetings, people running significantly late, regulations changing under my feet, and other oddities, has been super healthy for my home life too. Be willing to flex and adapt to your networking contact's schedule- not so much you miss out on other opportunities, but enough so that they feel accepted as a real human with real human concerns by you. In recent history, a buyer apologetically asked me to change a meeting date because she got a day off to go on a short trip with her boyfriend. I immediately validated how welcome a rest day will be for her with how nuts the industry is right now, and said I hope she and her boyfriend have a lovely day off! Then I re-scheduled the meeting. This immediately created a point of human connection, that I will open our meeting interaction with (how was your day trip?) and will improve the rest of the meeting. To give you some perspective on just how chill and flexible you need to be, 60% of my days I'm not even sure what they'll look like (unless I have a scheduled event or meeting), until I have my morning call with my distribution partner. 

3. Be Courteous. To Everybody. When you meet a budtender, that person knows dozens of products inside and out, and spends long shifts on their feet dealing with customers of every stripe who are often aggravated about high taxes and possibly don't know much about weed. No matter what role you want in the industry, budtenders drive the heart of it, as they are the ones doing most of the day to day customer interaction. Be good to them. Buyers are usually being pulled in 10 different directions every minute, be patient when they have to take a call in the middle of your meeting, or ask you to wait. They probably haven't had a lunch break in several weeks and secretly need to pee but it's been so nonstop they haven't had a chance in 2 hours. There's so many brands on the market now it doesn't make sense to be competitive with other sales reps if you are one, if you form a solid professional relationship with them they may end up being a useful ally in your own growth. Just, be good to people. 

4. Be Yourself. Okay so first of all PLEASE read this book: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. In all things, people are more likely to like you/want to hire you/want to buy whatever you're selling if they can tell you strongly believe in it, genuinely, yourself. YOU are valuable in this industry, and your honest self is more important than flashy credentials or a puffed up attitude. One of the reasons I think I'm doing well in the cannabis industry is that it's aggressively honest, and while everybody shows discretion about business details (of course), being yourself is a critical part of how business gets done. I once spent an hour talking to a buyer about gardening - not weed, gardening vegetables - and made a sale afterwards. She wanted to see my humanity and passions and the places where I connected with her, and after an hour of talking about the merits of different tomato strains, when I started sharing my feelings about the strain of weed in the product I represent, well, she believed it because she knew I know my shit about plants. BE YOU. That being said don't waste people's time shooting the shit, but if someone in a hiring or buying position brings up some random topic with you, understand that ask for information is them saying, "who are you and can I trust your opinions about this." 

5. Network Network Network. This one is also hard, as how does one meet somebody without already "knowing a guy?" Look up your local cannabis education events and start attending them. Go to demo days and talk to the Brand Ambassadors- not the budtenders, they're trying to do their jobs, but people demoing a product at a booth are usually happy to engage customers. Just be polite and give them a few minutes to tell you about their product before you start peppering them with professional questions. In fact I'm specifically writing this guide because I've accumulated so many people asking me about how to get into the industry at events (by politely peppering me with questions then following up after I gave them my card) that I wanted to put the stuff I keep texting in one basic intro resource. 

6. Educate Yourself. I opted for the CTU online program, which is expensive but incredibly comprehensive. Remember one of the most important lessons from an early chapter of The 4 Hour Workweek: It's not hard to position yourself as educated in a specific field. Just get some credentials under your belt and actually read the material for that credentialing, and you'll have enough of a working knowledge and vocabulary to figure out the rest and know what questions to ask for anything else. Even if you want to get involved in a very specific segment of the industry, it still benefits you to learn about all the aspects of the flower, including growth cycles, what different strains mean, what terpines are, and how various forms of consumption are produced and used. These are going to be things people talk about around you, and it's useful to have some basic understanding. 

7. No Seriously Tho Be Courteous. Let me tell you a little story. I was working a demo booth and not having a really great day, for various reasons. I kept my game face on and was in good spirits, and when the girl at the booth next to me started chatting with me and our conversation quickly deviated from weed to dogs, I went with it. We stood next to one another for 4 hours during that demo, alternating between talking about our products to customers, and chatting about dogs, the industry, eyebrows, whatever. She went to go to the bathroom at one point and when she came back, somebody had approached her booth and I was telling them about the extracts she represented, making it clear I wasn't the booth rep but was happy to share what information I'd heard her give. She stood back and I understood she wanted to see how I did. After the demo she asked me out to dinner. Well. It turns out she is the Northern California Sales Manager for her brand, and had to last minute sub in for a member of her team. I was just doing my normal thing, being tenacious and friendly and helpful where possible, and I walked away with a tentative job offer. So just, like, know your shit, be helpful when appropriate, and people will start to notice. When excellence is your habit, you can't hide it for very long. 

8. Have A Side Hustle or Savings. The first couple of months are going to be rough. I got a bit lucky by somehow being offered a contract out the gate, but typically as you're learning you'll be doing delivery jobs, Brand Ambassador per-gig jobs, or other work that can be unpredictable. Step up and ask how else you can help, offer to do additional tasks you think might be useful, and you'll work your way up, but while you're building your relationships and networks in the industry the first couple of months can be slow moving. 

Well, there are some super quickie starting points for you to take with you into the marketplace. It's a very interesting time, experiencing an industry coming into increased legality and social acceptance, and there's a LOT of opportunity. Just carry with you an awareness that this industry is very different from, say, bars, and to be successful you need to demonstrate professionalism, genuineness, a high level of chill, patience (I'm working on that...), and an openness to systems in flux. You can do it!