How to run a networking event as a lead generator

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If you run an offline business one of the best ways to source new leads and ultimately customers is to attend local networking events. These might be held by your local business chamber, bank or other business in your area. I’ve had great success sourcing business via events in the past and all of my very best clients have always been found via an initial face to face networking event.

There are many different types of networking events including events with speakers, speed networking, breakfasts, workshops and more..

Network Event Lead Generation

That’s me running my monthly speed networking event with 54 attendees.

Networking is also a great way for you to build confidence, refine your elevator pitch and motivate yourself to get out and grow your business. For anyone just starting out I challenge you to find a local networking event and attend. Don’t worry if you fall over your words, are nervous as heck and have no idea how to act. We were all there at one point and it gets easier the more often you attend. Don’t let a little anxiety and fear get in the way of building your business.

I was attending networking events for years before I decided run one of my own. This was by far the best decision I ever made. After I started to run my own free networking events I found that my conversion rates improved dramatically and the cost was negligible to my business.

Some of the reasons I think these conversion rates increased include:

  1. You are immediately perceived as an expert.
  2. You are giving people something for free that adds value.
  3. People like to reciprocate.
  4. It gives you a legitimate excuse to follow up post event.

I’ll run through these 4 points in detail but it’s the last one that I will focus most of my attention on.

  • You are immediately perceived as an expert. There’s no better way to be seen as an expert than by speaking to a large group. Holding the attention of 50+ people while you talk to them over a PA system translates to instant credibility.
  • You are giving people something for free that adds value. I run free events for local business people in Sydney, Australia. Attendees receive genuine value as they are able to grow their business networks at no cost. Providing something for nothing like this is the perfect way to kick off a new relationship.
  • People like to reciprocate. Flowing on from my previous point, the fact that you have given someone something that they value helps the Law of Reciprocity come into effect. Bonza!
  • It gives you a legitimate excuse to follow up post event. Did you identify the perfect prospect during your networking event. Well give them a call or follow up with another form of marketing. These leads are now warm (which means no more cold calling) and they will generally welcome the conversation. Just don’t wait too long before you call them. Strike when the iron is hot.

How to run your own networking event

Before you begin to even consider running your own networking event to act as a lead generator for your business make sure you have attended at least 5 other networking events held by other people. This will give you a head start on this process as well as helping to build your confidence networking. As an organiser you will need to lead by example to set the tone for your group, so it is vital that you have a handle on your skills networking.

Tip #1. Before you run out and start your own networking group make sure you attend a few others with the sole intent to see how they are run.

Great! Now that you’ve been to a few other local networking events you’ll have a better idea as to what works and what doesn’t. The next question to ask yourself is what type of event should you run?

The four most common types of events include:

  1. Breakfast networking.
  2. Workshops.
  3. Events with Speakers.
  4. Speed Networking.
  • Breakfast networking. One of the easier events to organise. Low in ongoing cost and can easily work with low numbers. I run breakfast events through Meetup.com and actually cold called a few local businesses to get the group off the ground. Most local cafes will welcome the trade, just make sure they have a spare that is reasonably private for your breakfast group. I run these for free and find that putting up a pay wall, even if it just covers the cost of food and coffee, really lowers attendance.
  • Workshops. Running a workshop can be a hard event to get off the ground. I recommend introducing workshops to your networking group after you have a solid member base and reputation. Hiring a suitable venue will cost you a few hundred dollars but you might be able to find a cheaper alternative or maybe a JV partner with a boardroom for free. Should you charge for attendance? Personally I wouldn’t but I would make sure my content was full of affiliate offers that I would use to monetise the workshop.
  • Events with Speakers. Another tough cookie to get off the ground. Venue costs, food and speaker costs mean that you will likely need to charge for tickets. Unless you have a solid reputation and member base this may be difficult to get off the ground. Save this for another day.
  • Speed Networking. My personal favorite. Speed networking is fun, full of energy and free. Venue costs will generally be your only cost however keep an eye out for potential joint venture (JV) partners who would like the extra exposure to their business in exchange for a good sized boardroom. Keep it free and use a platform like Meetup.com to get your group off the ground.

Tip #2. Speed networking is by far the easiest type of event to get off the ground. Once you have an established speed networking group start introducing other types of events.

For the sake of this article I will concentrate on how you can start your own Speed Networking group and use this as your lead generator for your own business.

Using Meetup.com as your Networking Group Platform

I love Meetup. It does such a great job of automating the planning for your group that I now literally spend 20 minutes a month organising my networking group. All up you can have your Meetup group ready and running in under an hour.

Meetup is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face. More than 9,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities.

Once setup your Meetup group will grow organically with new members coming on board every month. My own experience has shown that as more members are added to your group the rate of new member sign ups also increases. The trick is to be patient and to provide a consistent experience to members.

Starting a Meetup Group

Meetup is the perfect platform for launching a new networking group.

Starting a Meetup group is easy. Just sign up for a free account and then click on the Start a Meetup Group located in the sites header. After this simply complete the following sections.

  1. Set your location.
  2. Add several keywords relevant to your new group (tip: type ‘networking’ in here).
  3. Accept the Meetup pledge.
  4. Create your group name.
  5. Add a detailed group description.

You will need to pay a very small fee for setting up the group which comes out to roughly $12 per month.

Your next step will be to create your first event. Please feel free to take a look at my own networking event description and pick and choose what you like from our group. The key here is to concentrate on what value the attendee will receive by attending. Never use an event description as an opportunity to push sell.

After you have setup your event description you will need to set a date. I always make a point of setting a date before I select a venue as it gives me a deadline to focus on. Have a look at what other networking events are currently running in your area and try to avoid running yours too close to these. Aim for your first event to run 4 weeks after you setup your group. This will give you ample time to find a venue and for your group to start growing.

Next it’s time to find a venue. You can often find a suitable venue by spying on your competition and seeing where they are holding events. When I first started I ran my events at a business center in downtown Sydney. This venue cost me $200 for four hours of use. Try your best to find a professional venue that is located centrally to your target market.

Lead Generation

Trouble finding a venue? A small office can often be hired for a nominal fee.

Now I realise that $200 per event can seem like a lot of money for a small one hour long networking event to some people. However if you are able to land one new client (think client lifetime value here) I am sure you will have covered the cost and then some. The good news is there is an alternative to paying for a venue each and every time. What you want to do is start talking to your event attendees, larger firms, serviced offices and maybe even your local business incubators about partnering with you. You will exchange exposure of their business to your networking group in exchange for a subsidized or free venue.

Tip #3. Try using LinkedIn to find a JV venue partner after your first event.

Your group is now setup. Congratulations, you’re well on your way to becoming the leader of your own community of business owners. Now go and spread the word and grow your group.

The three ways I initially grew my group included:

  1. Advertise the group via LinkedIn.
  2. Contact members of other Meetup networking groups.
  3. Contact your local business chamber and ask them to announce the group.

Running your Speed Networking Event

Speed networking is by far the easiest networking event to host.

Speed networking is by far the easiest networking event to host.

Hosting a speed networking event is easy and a lot of fun. Speed networking is just like speed dating but for business. Attendees spend a limited amount of time with a variety of partners, they talk about their respective businesses briefly and then move on to a new partner. Surprisingly it’s not about selling but about building relationships.

Tip #4. No one goes to a networking event to be sold to yet many people go to an event to try and sell something. Networking is all about building relationships you can leverage in the future. Keep it about lead generation and avoid the temptation to ‘sell’ on the day.

 

A typical speed networking session will run like this:

  1. 15 minutes of unsupervised generally networking while you wait for everyone to show.
  2. Give a brief introduction and outline the ‘rules of the game’.
  3. Start!
  4. Keep time.
  5. Wrap up.
  • 15 minutes of unsupervised generally networking while you wait for everyone to show. Traffic and late running meetings are just two reasons why someone might be running late. Don’t take this personally as ‘life happens’, just allocate a 15 minute window to meet and greet attendees as they turn up. Lead by example here and proactively work the room to make people feel comfortable and welcome.
  • Give a brief introduction and outline the ‘rules of the game’. Gather everyone’s attention and introduce yourself and the group. Talk about the structure of your event and how it will run. I keep a brief bullet list handy:
  • Hello and welcome
  • Ice Breaker / Joke
  • Who has been here before. Good to see you again. For everyone else I’d like to run through structure of event.
  • 4 minute rounds / 2 minute halves
  • Bells. One at half round and one at full
  • End of round 10 seconds to move to next partner
  • 30 minutes at the end of event for general networking
  • Put your hand up for water and we’ll come to you
  • Line up in equal distant rows
  • Moving around. One side stays still and the other side rotates clockwise
  • Say hello to you first partner and lets get started
  • Start! At this point the room will fill with noise. It’s important to start keeping time, I use my iPhone but most phones will have some type of countdown timer. I try to keep the actual speed networking session to under 45 minutes with rounds lasting 4 minutes long each. The reality is that some people may take their time moving on to their next partner or you might be on water duty at the end of a round so don’t worry too much about ending rounds on 4 minutes sharp, just keep them as equal in length as possible. Attendees should be able to connect with 10 or 11 people on the day.
  • Keep time. At the end of each 4 minute round you will ring a bell and one row of attendees will move clockwise. One person on the end will need to move across the room to the other end of their line.
  • Wrap up. At the end of the session gather everyone’s attention and thank them for coming. Let them know that there is still another 30 minutes available for general networking and then go and work the room. It’s a good idea at this point to run some type of competition as a way to harvest business cards en masse. ‘Place your card in this bowl for a chance to win…’.

Make sure you bring a bell or other noisemaker to use to gain attention, also pre prepared name badges help and also work as a ‘roll call’ for the event. Meetup has a great internal name badge system you can use to print these out.

Tip #5. Consistency is important for group growth. Your group will grow slowly and speed up over time if you provide a consistent event schedule and experience.

I find a monthly schedule works best. Now go add your best prospects to your CRM and follow up, follow up, follow up. You have just been positioned as an expert in your prospects eyes so it’s time to work this to your advantage.

Over to you

I took my Meetup group from zero members to 300 in 8 months. In this time event attendance went from 12 at my first event to over 50 regular attendees. I’m sure this number will keep growing as group membership grows. I invite you to start your own group and please use any of my own Meetup group setting to help get you going.

What do you think? Would this work as a lead generator for your business? Do you have any specific questions about any part of this process? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Offline Marketing Sales Process

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If you know your way around the internet and how to leverage technology to create an income for yourself then you are probably the right type of candidate for offline marketing your internet business.

CRM Automation

Using a cheap CRM app like Capsule to automate your sales process is a great idea.

There is no better feeling then applying the lessons and skills you use for your own gain to a client business. Especially after you start seeing results and an increase in your clients business. Personally this is why I work with clients, it’s all about that sense of accomplishment you get for a job well done. I challenge anyone out there to help out a local business and not feel great after your work has resulted in a ‘return on investment and then some’ for your client.

Just in case you aren’t 100% sure what I mean by offline marketing and internet business please read the following definition.

My definition of offline marketing is simple. It’s any method you use to acquire internet marketing consulting customers that does not use the internet as an acquisition method.

Simple right? A practical example would be to advertise your website development services in your local newspaper. The newspaper is an ‘offline’ medium while your website development skills is your ‘internet business or your ‘internet marketing consulting’ services.

If you’re still having trouble getting your head around this I’ve created a short list of some of the services you might offer to your internet marketing customers.

  1. SEO services
  2. Content Marketing and Writing
  3. Reputation Management Services
  4. Website Development
  5. Email Marketing Setup
  6. Google AdWords consulting

And some of the more common Offline Marketing Mediums / Strategies

  1. Newspaper / Magazine advertising
  2. Radio Advertising
  3. Cold Calling
  4. Attending Networking Events
  5. Referrals
  6. Letterbox drops

Wherever your particular talents lie try to make sure that the services you provide have some type of ongoing billing option. Ongoing billing is so important as it provides you with the ability to budget for growth. Knowing how much you can expect to earn in your business every month gives you options, including being able to spend advertising dollars acquiring more customers.

Personally I offer a variety of services to my offline clients. However, I am not an ‘everything to everyone’ consultant. I do not try to sell or provide services that I do not have some expertise in. Specifically I apply the lessons I have learned running my own eCommerce business to my clients. This includes content writing, SEO, Email Marketing and Google AdWords services.

I will occasionally pick up a small website project and am happy to help another business owner give their company more visibility however I do not promote website design this as part of my own offering.

My Offline Sales Process

No business should rely on just one sales process. Doing so really limits your opportunities for growth and scaling. In the perfect world I recommend that every business maintain at least ten active sales channels. And I say maintain as you should also be testing and measuring these for effectiveness and improvements.

So today I am going to take you through one of my own sales processes. I will be documenting each step in full detail through a series of blog posts (don’t miss a post by subscribing to this blog now) and linking to each step in this post as they are created. Don’t be surprised if the posts change slightly from time to time as that is the nature of a sales process, to be broken down into small steps which are in a constant state of improvement.

This sales process starts by first running a networking event for small business owners (my target market). It then flows into a set process that I follow to the letter. I hope you find some value from this process, please feel free to pick and choose, copy and use as much as you like. Also if you have any suggestions please leave a comment at the end of this post, I’d be happy to communicate with you.

The 5 step offline sales process for Networking Events

  1. Run Networking Event
  2. Add Prospect to CRM
  3. Send A4 Flyer
  4. Call Prospect 1 Week
  5. Onsite Visit

Several of these steps include a variety of sub-steps and scripts. Definitely worth the look if you are starting your journey with finding offline clients.

Sales Process

My sales process for leads sourced through networking events. Each color denotes a particular step as outlined on this website.

 

A brief rundown of my process.

It all starts with by hosting your own networking event. Being the organiser of any event puts you in a great position to connect with a lot of people and really start to build out your professional network. All of my best clients and my strongest joint ventures have come from relationships that started at one of my networking events. I can’t recommend this as a platform for building clients ‘offline’ enough.

Why networking events? Well when I relocated to Sydney in 2012 I moved from a city where I had a strong business network to one where I had none. Having no network I quickly went out and started running networking events for business owners to use to connect with each other. What started as just a dozen attendees and a lot of planning has now become a regular event with over 50+ attendees and very little planning each and every time.

After running an event I add my new prospects to a simple CRM app. Ideally you have setup your CRM to include reference to your sales process so that the hard part of knowing which step in your process each of your prospects is automatically handled for you.

After uploading my CRM data I send out an A4 Flyer to reinforce the message and branding used at my networking event. Once sent wait 1 week and then..

Make a phone call. This is so easy and no where near what you would call a ‘cold call’. My prospect has now seen me run a free networking event for them, send them a thank you email and then an A4 flyer. Once you get them on the phone there should be little need to re-establish your business. Conduct a needs analysis and if everything lines up..

Setup a face to face meeting to talk about requirements and needs.

Looking at the entire process at once can seem a little daunting but if you approach every step individually it really is easy to manage. So keep an eye out for more specifics on each of these steps that you can use in your own business over the coming weeks.

Over to you

This is the part where I get really interested in your thoughts, opinions and views. What do you think of this sales process? Is it applicable to your business? Are there any particular points you would like me to go over in more detail? Let me know and join our community by leaving a comment below.

My offline marketing flyer

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One of the main goals for my business is to create a passive income stream that I can use to support myself and the growth of my business. Like most people I like the idea of waking up at the beginning of a month and knowing that I’ll be earning money even if I chose to do nothing for the next 30 days.

This is the dream many of you might share with me. However the reality is often further from the ‘truths’ sold to you in the countless ‘make money online’ eBooks and online courses that litter the internet.

offline marketing collateral

My latest offline marketing flyer.

This blog entry is all about one of the ways that I approach offline companies to promote myself as an online marketing consultant.

The truth is that building a stable, Penguin / Panda proof and scalable income online takes a lot of time. To me quick fixes and ‘systems’ are just big shiny objects that don’t stand the test of time. “So what?” you might be asking. Well if you’ve made the decision to work full time on your internet marketing business this means that cash flow, at least for the first year, will be pretty low.

So is there a work around for this?

Fortunately many of the skills you need when building your own niche websites can be applied and used on other people’s businesses. The majority of small business owners all own websites and they all want to use it to make them more money. Applying your SEO, WordPress, content writing, design and other internet marketing skills to these businesses is a great way to bring in some extra money while your own passive income streams mature.

Offline marketing clients are client you source via traditional ‘non-internet marketing’ methods.

You might remember from some of my other posts that I run monthly networking groups. I first started this as a way to grow my own business network and in under 10 months my group membership has grown from zero to over 250. For this group I organise a monthly speed networking session which attracts over 50 attendees as well as a networking breakfast for other local businesses in my local area (I love this one since as the organiser I got to choose a venue and selected one that is only 100m from my front door).

I’ve always made my networking events about the attendees and don’t use them as a self-promotional tool. I believe my attendees get the most value from the event when I make it about them and in turn they are more eager to reciprocate my goodwill.

I have picked up most of my commercial offline work from these events so it makes sense to try and maximise the value that I receive from them while still trying to avoid turning them into a complete self-promotion soapbox. I was thinking about this recently and decided the best approach would be to refine my ‘networking event’ sales process with the view to use attendees as my ‘Step One’ (lead generation) which then flows into a fully structured sales approach.

 

Question: Do you want to see a set of posts that outline this exact offline sales process? Let me know by leaving a comment at the end of this post.

 

‘Step Two’ in this sales process is to send out a flyer outlining my services two days after the event. This A4 flyer is signed by hand, tri-folded and then sent out in a standard envelope with a hand written address to all attendees. There has been a lot of discussion on the internet about open rates using hand written addresses and most agree that open rates improve by 300% when you write addresses manually.

You will also notice that I include a way to measure the response rate of this flyer by way of a free email marketing setup. It’s key to have a way to track the success of any marketing campaign so that you can calculate a return on investment. For this campaign my cost to produce and send 100 flyers is $90, which includes professional digital printing, postage and stationary. Say I then went on to make $180 from these flyers I would be able to calculate that my ROI as 100%. Now ideally I want a much higher return than this as I have to also account for the time I spend putting the envelopes together etc. However in my opinion 100% is the minimum ROI you should always aim for.

After this I load my new prospects into my CRM system and follow up with a phone call a full week later. Follow up calls after being an organiser of a networking event and then having sent through a physical flyer are easy. The best bit is that it’s not cold calling!

So far it’s too soon to report back on the success of this process. I will come back and report on it’s success (or failure) in a future post so subscribe to my blog to be updated for when I write this.

 

Over to you

This sort of process is great for those of you looking to promote your online marketing businesses to new ‘offline clients’. The good news is that it’s not just limited to internet marketing shops as any other type of business can easily setup a networking event and then promote to attendees in the same way you promote to any other list.

What do you think about a multifaceted approach to promoting your business like this? Could you see yourself running a networking event (which by the way is very easy) or would you like me to write about any particular details for you? Let me know by leaving a comment.

My Review Site Theme – ExtraNews

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I wanted to share with you what I think is the best WordPress theme for niche sites. I first bought the theme about a year ago for use on my PogoSpring.com business blog and was so happy with it that I carried on using it on my new Amazon niche sites.

It’s called the ExtraNews theme and the main reason I like it so much is that it not only looks great but it also has an integrated review feature built into the theme. This means that any review article you write looks spectacular as well as professional. Anecdotally I think having a professional looking site helps decrease bounce rates and adds to user engagement, however I have no firm data to back this up so if anyone out there is running ProSense or CTR theme on their Amazon niche sites I’d invite you to leave a comment with your bounce rates so we can compare.

To give you a better idea as to why I use ExtraNews I put together a recording of the theme in action on PogoSpring.com. Take a look.

Click to download your copy of the ExtraNews Theme.

The integrated review system in the ExtraNews theme is easy to use and includes integrated rich snippet micro-data. This is a real point of difference for this niche site premium theme and if you choose to implement Google Authorship in your review site you will have a truly eye grabbing SERP result.

ExtraNews Review

Integrated rich snippet micro-data in action.

One thing I did forget to mention in the video is that this theme comes with seven custom WordPress widgets which really help keep the site looking professional. I don’t use them on my Amazon niche sites however you might decide you like the look of them.

Other features of the ExtraNews Premium WordPress Theme:

  • Ready to be deployed using the latest versions of WordPress
  • Uses a Responsive Design and is Tablet and Mobile Optimized
  • Easy to use and integrated Review System
  • Can use videos as featured posts
  • Access to over 300 Google Web Fonts
  • Integrated Author Pages

I mentioned in the video that I used to use several other WordPress niche site themes such as the CTR theme and ProSense free themes. I will never use these or other low grade niche site themes again. You know I never really felt proud of the sites I deployed using these free themes and I never showed them to friends. I’ll be honest they were borderline spammy and didn’t add any value to visitors as they landed on my sites. Now I think it’s more important to be proud of the work you complete and for me using these CTR optimized themes for niche sites just doesn’t do it. Today when I deploy a niche site using the ExtraNews template I am happy to show it off to my friends and peers. I think that says something.

Over to you

I always welcome the views of others and understand that my opinion is just a collection of my experiences. Do you use another theme for niche sites or have you used other premium niche themes for your sites. Join our community by leaving a comment below.