How getting speaking slots at events worked for one SME

There was once a small B2B consultancy firm in Hampshire.

For them, prospects – just like buses – would fail to materialise when they really needed them. And then – as soon as they were busy – prospects would magically appear in threes, all wanting help at the same time.

What this firm had was too much feast or famine. What they wanted was rather more three meals a day.

So this consultancy hired someone to help them build a steadier pipeline.

A single, focused marketing channel can be powerful for an SME

As a small business, they didn’t need a big, integrated marketing or new business plan. (For those that do, this may be a more relevant read).

It can be much more targeted than that. They already had their house in order. They knew what they did. They could articulate it. They had a niche of sorts.

Besides which, they’d already tried many different marketing tactics and channels – with varying results, but never good enough to justify continuing. So, they knew what they wanted.

They wanted to focus their energy on getting speaking slots as experts in their own area.

As truly independent experts who could help SMEs select and implement the right business critical software system for them.

Speaking slots – or workshops, or clinics – where they could stand up and give really useful, practical and valuable advice to businesses for whom they’d be a good fit.

Well aimed speaking slots

How to get those elusive speaking slots at the right events

Well, this lovely person they hired first did a good deep dig around all the relevant events.

Now, at this stage, it’s just simple stuff that needs doing.  Her clients could easily have done it without her. (I mean me. And don’t tell them that it was simple stuff).

But, to be fair, they would have had to wait till they’d finished a client project before starting that research. Because their work is typically quite intensive and doesn’t allow them time to market themselves until they have a gap.

Therein lies the problem.

You have to put in the grunt work to find the right events

Here’s some of the practical, simple stuff I did. So you can do it too.

  • Researched all the events I could possibly find
  • Asked everyone I talked to in that world, about other events they knew about
  • Got to know (to some degree) all the events
  • Made many different contacts in trying to find the right contact
  • Put in the time to develop personal relationships with those contacts
  • Reviewed lots of exhibitor lists (previous years’), visitor profiles (pinch of salt required), conference agenda and speakers profiles
  • Visited events to suss them out
  • Sent my clients to visit events to suss them out

Getting a speaking slot isn’t as hard as you might think

I came to understand a whole bunch of interesting stuff which you might find useful too.

  • The wider landscape of events in their industry and connected supply chain
  • The different chances of getting a speaking slot at particular regional or national events – from 0 to 99%
  • That some events actually (and sometimes desperately) needed speakers and so were actively looking for content and were really pleased to make contact with me
  • The huge breadth and variance of negotiating opportunities within the whole networking, visiting, exhibiting or speaking at events world
  • Which events had hot, noisy, scruffy little stages with wobbly chairs for visitors – and which did it properly with working microphones and air conditioning.
  • Early stage events (i.e. events in their first year of existence) are often the best place to go. Support them when they are starting out and the relationship could develop very productively.
  • Which events would always want you to pay to speak (nah…), and which would value good content enough to pay you (yay!)

Your relationships with event providers are what matters

As the events schedule and the elusive speaking slots began to materialise, a whole other bunch of stuff became clear.

  • Some events would openly innovate to co-create content, and some couldn’t conceive of the idea of giving anyone a speaking slot who wasn’t an exhibitor/sponsor etc.
  • That government-supported events in particular could vary enormously in their ability to actually organise their own event
  • How and why smaller, niche-focused (often, at first appearance, a bit amateur and scruffy) events could have a much better outcome than the big, fancy (often very smart and hi-tech) conferences
  • The quality of an event’s website could be inversely proportional to the quality of the event. I was most surprised – and a bit discombobulated – at this; having believed in the past that if someone really wouldn’t invest in a decent website nowadays, they couldn’t possibly offer a decent service. That showed me.
  • Co-speaking – case studies with clients, comparisons with competitors or joint workshops with suppliers – is loved by event organisers. So you can leverage that.
  • The relationship you develop with an event organiser becomes everything. It’s about trust.

Prepare for the prospects you might get

As time passed, we came to learn some other things.

  • The prospects that are appearing are a much better fit than the prospects obtained through the broader referrals and networking-based marketing they had been using. Yay! No real surprise there, but always good to know.
  • My client’s service is very much in demand. We now need to take a good look at how – as a small business – we manage multiple prospects with different requirements. Not to mention keeping in touch with those early stage enquiries. And possibly collaborating with competitors with similar values for overflow work.

Ideally we would have planned for those outcomes. But it’s the right problem to have, so we’ll crack on with that next.

After all, as an SME, you can’t do everything at once.

Please spread the word

If you found this post interesting – or you know someone else who might – please help me to spread the word by sharing it. You can email it direct to someone, or more widely, using the buttons on the right hand side.

Thank you!

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