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Growing Your Business with Marketing, Week 11: Conferences are marketing, too

Posted by Colleen Wainwright on

This is Week 11 of a 52-week project/experiment in DIY marketing. Armed with nothing but a copy of the 2009 Grow Your Business Marketing Plan + Calendar and my bare wits, I'm applying the skills you need to grow a business in real time, day by day, and reporting on them week by week. You can follow along here every Monday; check in with my companion blog, A Virgo's Guide to Marketing, for additional links and information.

Website tasks are still on the calendar, but this week, I threw it all to the winds for the Mother of All Geek Conferences: South by Southwest Interactive. Here's how and where preparation and action coincide…for me.

Full disclosure: this week, for good or for ill, I gave myself permission to go off the plan—that would be the marketing plan (and calendar!)—foregoing my regular, prescribed marketing tasks in order to prepare for and attend a conference that's become a focal point of my working, intellectual and, uh, social life over the past four years.

Today wraps up my third South by Southwest Interactive Festival in four years (I skipped 2007) and it's easily been my best yet, for a variety of reasons.

Why the third time's a charm

First, I know the lay of the land…literally. After three years, I know my way around the conference: downtown Austin; the convention center itself (one of the more challenging to navigate); the types of activities I get the most out of here; how my own rhythm intersects with the crazy rhythm of the conference; and how to prepare for it. Never underestimate the value of good prep, even of the mental variety: getting yourself in the mindset to meet an unbelievable amount of interesting people (a quality problem, but for an introvert, a problem nonetheless) is not unlike getting yourself in the mindset to make cold calls. (Not-odd-for-SXSW coincidence: I ended up meeting a super-salesman for the green construction market at dinner last night, and his eyes lit up when I described my struggle with cold calling. He's a podcaster, I've planted a seed and we're both persistent, so expect some good, new info on how to Do It Right soon, video-style!)

Second, I've hit some kind of critical human mass. My first time at SXSW, I'd only been online for a year and a half. That's an eternity for someone who is focused and social, but I wasn't: I basically had a meandering sort of a blog (i.e., no focus), and hadn't connected with many people online. I was also really shy about meeting people, was traveling with someone so I didn't have to meet people, and crammed my schedule with so many panels and films (there's a film fest that overlaps the geek fest), there was no time to meet people, except waiting in the endless lines. I still had fun, but not as much as I do now that I'm meeting up with friends I know from real life and new friends I've connected with online, but am meeting for the first time. It takes patience and work and a certain amount of feeling the fear and doing it anyway, but it really does get better with time and effort.

What SXSW taught me about marketing (and vice versa)

I'm far from achieving mastery over any of this, but I've learned some stuff about how to make it all better, and by "it," I mean both SXSW (or the conference of your choice) and marketing.

  • Be realistic about what you can do. I'm here for four days and four nights, and so are a lot of people I want to meet. I had to do some prioritizing and scheduling, to make sure I got to meet up with people I really wanted to see; because I am not a high-energy extrovert, I also had to build in time to do nothing, all by myself. If I don't recharge my own batteries, I'm like an iPhone with a spent battery: theoretically useful and compelling, but kind of a drag in practice.
  • Prepare for the stuff you can't do. I used the early part of the week to gang up a lot of writing for my blog. It was Make-a-Referral Week, so I created resource pages for each day of the week. I've long been wanting to do something like that, and John Jantsch's project was the perfect inspiration for creating my own project. As an added bonus, I posted a number of the referrals on his site (as we were encouraged to do), wound up being the 1,000th referrer, and had a mini-conversation with John in the comments section about creating a more ongoing referral project. (He's writing a book about referrals, so even beyond the good karma points, has good reasons for keeping things going.)
  • Be open to what happens on the way. There's a saying about getting along with people that advocates strong opinions, loosely held (anyone got the source handy?). It's a good rule of thumb for plans, too: I had a schedule, but many parts of it were like serving suggestions: maybe my day will look like this, maybe it won't. As a result, I got to hang out with a slew of interesting people I wouldn't have otherwise, and had a publisher ask me point blank if I had any books I wanted to write. Who knows what will come of that, but just to start the conversation is pretty awesome.

I'll get back on track with the plan this coming week, or as much of it as I can while I'm recovering. Even taking SXSW slowly, on the Old Lady Plan, is pretty taxing, so I'll have to rest more than usual.

But the experience was wildly instructive, rejuvenating, and just plain fun.

Also, it was marketing: networking, a.k.a. meeting people with some intention, is definitely part of that.

What have you been working on this week? Or struggling with?

Any lessons that carry over into the rest of your marketing?

  • More in: Marketing Plan in Action, Networking, Not for Introverts Only, Posts by Colleen

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