Most blogs about marketing are focused on the digital side of it – blog posts, email autoresponders, content upgrades, webinars, guest posts etc. But in my experience, in-person networking is such a powerful way of making connections with potential clients, and you can make the two work together to get even better results.
Even though I’m specialized in digital strategy for small businesses, a lot of my clients do in-person appearances on events like book and craft fairs, conferences, cultural events, workshops etc. They may be selling their products or services at a booth, speaking at an industry event, or just meeting interesting people. When we work together, we make sure that their physical marketing items are on par with the rest of their brand, to make a stellar first impression.
Live events are a lot on my mind this season, since I'm speaking at two web development conferences, and participating in one meetup and one networking event. (Not to mention I'm also helping to organize a cultural event.) All that in less than 2 months time, on top of my regular work – it's pretty crazy.
If you’re preparing for an upcoming event, this post will help you pick your priorities, so you can turn your new connections into followers and clients.
1. You need a website
You’ll meet many people, and you won’t have time to give each of them an in-depth story of what you can do for them, how, and for how much – nor should you aim for that.
Conferences and meetups are not the place to sell. You’re there to socialize and identify interesting people who might be a good fit for your offerings, so instead of driving the conversation toward your own products and services, express interest in what they’re doing. That way, you can judge if they’re a good fit.
After you’ve identified people who are a good fit, you can ask for their business card so you can follow up with them, or give them the shortest description of how you can help them, and let them know where they can find more information about you. This is where your website comes in.
Your website should offer enough information to people who have an interest and a need (or potential future need) for your services, and the option to take the next step right away.
The “next steps” depending on your business model might be:
- Send a project inquiry
- Book a session
- Buy a product
- Download a freebie relevant to your services
- Sign up for email updates
What to do if you don’t have a website yet
If the event is in 2 weeks, you have no time to build a website from scratch, and all your favorite designers are probably booked for months in advance – but fear not, there’s a way to make this work.
There are two options you can take in the meantime, until your real website is finished:
- Create a temporary 1-page website (called a landing page)
- Create a PDF brochure and put it up for download on your empty temporary web page
Make sure that in both cases, your contact information is listed on the temporary page.
Temporary landing page
A landing page is the term for the first page your visitor sees when they follow a link on another website or an advertisement. Homepages can be designed as landing pages as well. Whatever information you’ve read about landing pages so far, applies to this temporary page.
- A landing page should have one main goal – either invite people to contact you, or book a session, or sign up for your newsletter – but not all 3 at once.
- Make a strong call to action that leads to your desired goal. You can do that at the top, at the bottom, or in multiple places on the page (if the offer is free, the top is fine; if it’s paid, move it below).
- Provide enough relevant information so people can make a decision if your offer is right for them. You can make it as short or as long as you want, but make sure to answer the most common questions your potential client has before they feel comfortable speaking to you.
- Don’t distract your visitors with irrelevant junk – this is not the place to put your Facebook like box or latest tweets.
You can write the content for your landing page and set up a simple website using WordPress or Squarespace in a single afternoon (even if you’re not a professional). This is not the time to obsess about the details. Just make sure to use the plugins you need for your call to actions – whether that’s a contact form, newsletter opt-in box, or an online scheduling app.
If you feel completely overwhelmed with technology and don’t have anyone who can help you with it, a good old brochure will do.
You can use any advanced text editor (like Word, Pages or Google Docs) to write a simple brochure that has all the relevant information about your offers, and invites the reader to contact you. Your brochure doesn’t necessarily need to have graphics.
When you’re done, export the file as a PDF, and upload it to Dropbox or Google Drive. Then, you can use an URL shortener like bit.ly to generate a friendly custom link and put that on your temporary business cards, if you still haven’t gotten around to buying your own domain name.
For an example of the contents of one such brochure, check out mine (PDF). Please don't get discouraged if you can't pull of the fancy design – I do this for a living, so of course yours is going to be a lot simpler.
I also recommend that you upload your file to a service like SlideShare, which makes it easy to share on your LinkedIn profile.
Email this brochure directly to the contacts you meet at the event the following day.
2. Business cards are still alive and kicking
Last year I was at a networking event where half the participants didn’t bring business cards. I was surprised, since I take them for granted. Internet marketing gurus say you don’t need business cards. I say that if you meet people in person, you do.
Even if you tell people your website name, they might not remember it – they’ve probably met a dozen other people that day, or your name might be tricky to spell, or the website name might be similar to that other website.
You don’t want to take any risks. Let them know exactly how to contact you. On a tiny piece of paper. Wow, I wish there was a way to create some kind of template for this so you don't have to write it down manually... Oh wait there is, it's called a business card.
You can make simple business cards at home – buy thicker paper (200-300 grams is fine), open a new word document, create a two-column table with invisible borders and enter your name, job title and contact information (website URL, email address, physical address and phone). Print them, cut them up to roughly 9 x 5 cm (3.5 x 2 in) rectangles, and you’re good.
You can also order them online at Moo or VistaPrint – look up what’s the nearest one available in your country. (If you’re in Croatia, I recommend Printshop.) They usually have a short turnaround time.
If you want to make an impression and have enough time to spare, hire a designer that will create beautiful branded business cards for you.
Business cards I've designed for 4D-monitoring
3. Presentable presentations
The best way to rock at events is to speak on the stage. That way, you won't have to introduce yourself to anyone (because they'll all have already heard your introduction), and people will want to talk about the topic of your presentation (which is great, since that's what you're an expert in).
If you've managed to get that coveted place on the stage, make sure your presentation slides are up to the task.
This is a topic for its own post, but here are some quick pointers on how to design better presentations:
- Ditch the bullet points – use one idea per slide in a sentence format (centered on the page).
- Use images to drive the point home (bonus if this image makes people laugh, if it’s appropriate for the event and your brand).
- Use one dominant color (your brand color).
- Add charts or graphs if it makes sense.
- Use the same font that's on your website and business cards.
- Don't add any tacky animations – you're a business owner, not a kid with a school project.
- On the “About me” slide (if you have one), use the same mugshot you use on Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook.
- Add contact information on the last slide.
- Bonus: if you have a content upgrade related to your talk topic, add a friendly bit.ly link that leads to that gift on the last slide.
My presentation: just a red background, one idea per slide, and a subtle branding element – my talking did the rest. Watch a video of my talk here.
I prefer the PDF format for presentations since they look the same on all computers, regardless of what software they use at the event. (If you use a PPT file, there's a chance they won't have your font so your design will be messed up.) You can export a PDF from any presentation design software.
If this feels like too much work, you can hire a professional designer to create a presentation for you, or to make a template you'll be able to fill with your own content.
I'm not going to tell you how to dress since that's as personal as it gets, but I'll give you one trick: Wear a statement piece in your brand color.
Red shoes. Teal scarf. Violet blouse. Yellow tie. Green glass necklace. Golden purse. You get the idea.
It doesn't have to be the exact same shade of your brand color, but bonus points if you can make it close enough that most people couldn't notice the difference. (I could, but don't worry – I won't tell anyone.)
Can you tell what my brand color is?
On last year's WordCamp Croatia, there was a young woman whose presentation highlight color was pink, and she also had pink shoes. We all noticed what she did. Even the dudes.
If you want to be perceived as a person who cares about the details (which is always a great sign in a professional), find that statement piece. You can totally wear it to multiple events. It's better to be known as “that guy with a yellow tie” than forgotten.
This one is entirely optional, and if you're already getting overwhelmed, just put it aside for next time.
The things we've discussed so far are essential, which means that people who know what they're doing will do it too. If you want to stand out even more, you'll need to go beyond what's common. You need to delight people – and what's more delightful than gifts?
These gifts don't have to be expensive, and they can also double as promotional materials, but they can't be just promotional. Flyers aren't gifts, they're junk.
Aim for something people will want to keep.
Here are a few low budget examples that you can get for under $20:
- Button badges
- Postcards with art or inspirational quotes (here's a way to recycle all those Instagram posts)
Giving away postcards is so much better than giving business cards
A great trick you can use to spread your cards is to give two to the same person, and tell them to give one to a colleague or a business partner with a handwritten note. Granted, some of those will end up in their kids’ hands, but there's a good chance a few will want to spread good karma. (Just make sure they're actually the same cards. If you give them different card designs, they'll want to keep all of them.)
Most printing services will have a template you can download to get the size of your designs right.
How to get it all done in one go
Preparing for an event is enough work as it is, and I get that you probably don't have the time to take care of everything I've mentioned. Luckily, there's a way to have all this done, so you don't have to worry about it.
My brand design packages include logo design, website design, and all the additional graphics you need to give a memorable impression at your next event. No need to hire half a dozen people, just one that gets you and your business really well.
When all your marketing materials look unique and professional, people take notice. Even the dudes.