This may be seen as an indulgent post but I never thought in a million years that anyone would actually be interested in what I am doing let alone how. I am still surprised when anyone thinks I have some sort of secret sauce as I am just doing what comes naturally – networking and meeting people.
It seems that what I have been doing without realising it, is playing the PR game and the general consensus is what ever it is I am doing – I should keep doing it, so I thought for my last post of the year, I would share some thoughts and PR tips to help you IF being more visible is on your list of ‘to do’s.
Why am I writing this post?
For the last year, people have been saying one of two things repeatedly:
‘What is it you actually do?’
‘I don’t know how you do it, you should write a book’.
This says to me:
- I am obviously doing something right
- I am obviously doing something wrong!
I recently took a presentation skills course where we had to present for 5 minutes on a subject of our choosing. I chose PPC/SEO why it’s important (blah blah) in order to practice for potential 2014 talks but realised quite quickly that it was not that interesting to the people on the course.
After speaking with delegates at lunch, I was surprised to find that people were actually more interested in the ‘you should write a book’ part than the ‘What is it you actually do?’
Needless to say, I changed my talk to something much more punchy and accessible ‘Personal PR Hacks & How to go from Zero to Hero’ and this post was born.
In the beginning
It wouldn’t be a personal story if I didn’t give you a bit of background.
Two years ago, I had never written a blog post, had only been to one conference and knew absolutely no one. I had some industry colleagues but more due to the fact that I knew them socially outside of SEO. The point is I was not actively involved in ‘the community’.
I had an accident which halted the contract I was working on and for the first time ever, I panicked and started thinking about getting a job instead of working for myself as if I couldn’t work effectively, I was screwed. I spent months not being able to drive, or carry laptops without pain or a trip to the chiro and really thought this was the beginning of the end and that I could no longer maintain the level of work required to keep up the pace and do everything.
In order to get a great job, you have to have a great profile right? CV’s don’t cut it on their own, it’s what you know not who you know etc – so I set to work…
Being slightly old school, I have always felt that you can’t really have a full connection unless you meet people in person – online is a great way to connect and you can get pretty close to people you have never met but even just one meeting makes a personal connection much stronger.
1. To get to know as many people in the industry as possible.
2. If I am going to work 24/7 and have no life, I need to make the world my office
What actually happened was an incredible journey both personally and professionally, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon so without further ado – here are a few tips with regards to what I have learned on the way.
1. Be Prepared to Change your Business Model
The thing about any quest is that you have to work pretty hard and be open to new ideas, so I made a decision that if I was going to work that hard and have no life, instead of dying slowly under artificial lighting in one room forever, the time had come to test the technology (and the clients) to see if I could work and travel to meet people without losing my shirt or my livelehood.
I would be lying if I said that all clients were always happy about my location, but if you are prepared to work extra hard in other time zones to provide the same service then you can make it happen.
I had a choice – advertise my services, go to endless interviews, or get to know people. IF it really is who you know not what you know, meeting people is a major part of finding a better career path. I just saw this as a different kind of investment – some people ride horses for a hobby, some people go shopping – I chose to meet (and occasionally stalk) people in the industry to see if we would get along. I set a budget and used it to travel to conferences to meet and get to know as many people as possible.
“But you run your own company” I hear you cry, “it’s easy for you” I hear you cry – I don’t down tools at 5pm, I work weekends, and sometimes I work 24/7 so this is not the easy route at all. There are also many brands that value staff putting themselves out there and going to conferences as it makes them look good too!
2. Get Involved in the Community
The first thing I did was feel the fear and put myself out there anyway. I joined a now legendary SEO group set up by the awesome Carly Woods, and lurked for several months as I was too timid to just shout hello to all of the SEO peeps that I looked up to and was a little scared of
Bas (yes State of Digital Bas!) posted something:
“I have tickets for bloggers who want to go to SMX East and want to guestblog for State of Search if you want. I know its a long trip and I can’t pay for the trip expenses, but you would have a ticket to SMX East. Anybody interested in guest blogging that conference?”
I had never been to the USA, never blogged, and never really been to a conference so I said ‘Hell Yes’. I laugh when I think back to not sleeping and being so worried that I would be judged harshly by peers or make a fool out of myself. I would like to take the time now to thank Matt Van Wagner – at my first ever conference he sat with me at lunch for the whole lunch – and made feel totally welcome even though inside I felt like a fool! He didn’t have to do that – but could probably tell I felt out of my depth and on my own!
One of the reasons why I try to also be welcoming at conferences – Thanks Matt
Anyway it was the start of the adventure so I just went with it – conferences & events = meetups and most SEO/SEM people being in the same room at the same time – which is of course networking gold. BUT you have to equip yourself with some broad shoulders.
No matter what area you work in, there is community everywhere. If there isn’t one then make one
3. Prepare to be ignored, Prepare to be Friendly Anyway
I found that the first conferences I went to, the networking events were full of people on a ‘work jolly’ that don’t really want to talk to anyone. Or there were groups of industry people that knew each other so I might have to work through a few ‘cliques’.
Put yourselves in their shoes though – why should they talk to you? What about you makes you compelling? They may feel they don’t need any more people trying to be their friend…
Having worked in restaurants and bars for the first half of my life, you get used to small talk, making people feel welcome and bringing people out of themselves. What I learned early on to keep people coming back as a regular is that people love you to take an interest in ‘them‘ so put this to good use.
- Be prepared to smile when you don’t feel like it
- Be prepared to pause your agenda til later – If you go straight to sales pitch without at least a little small talk, you put yourself in a less connected position (in my opinion).
- Ask lots of questions about ‘them’ – and try to be genuinely interested!
- If people don’t want to talk to you they won’t. We all have days like that. What do you do when you don’t want to talk to anyone?
- Stick around and persist, most people are nice enough to accept that you aren’t going to give up so will give you the time of day before moving on – even though they may want you to go away.
- Be welcoming to those that come to speak to you – you can’t have it just one way – pay it forward at least a little bit!
I will confess that in the past I have played a few games to make hanging around on your own more fun – if people have been unnecessarily exclusive or rude, I have deliberately asked stupid questions for an uncomfortably long time as I think that if someone is going to make me feel uncomfortable at at NETWORKING EVENT, then they deserve a little ribbing
4. Try to Connect with Key Influencers (at the right time)
Let’s face it, there is never a better time to connect with the influencers than at conferences and events either speaking, manning a stand, or just being present.
Be bold and meet them, tweet them, RT what they are saying – write a blog post – take a photo!
- Pre conference (looking forward to meeting you)
- At conference (great to meet you, I love XYZ about you, your product, your service)
- Post conference (it was great to meet you – I will send you a link when the blog post is up)
- Post post conference (people I think you should follow etc)
I don’t think it really matters if you come across as a ‘stalker’, over time if you are interested and supportive and don’t camp outside their house, they will just start to say hello to you.
You have a timeframe though – if you follow someone or add someone months afterwards – the moment may be lost so strike while the iron is hot!
Again, prepare to be ignored as this is a cycle that you will go through several times. There is no room for taking it personally or you would give up and go home thinking no one likes you
5. If you’re going to share… CARE
Get a camera and use it – I found pretty quickly that there were not that many photographers hanging around at most of the events and the quick method of getting followers and interest is to post pictures @people as quickly as you can.
However, if you are going to take photos and post them, try not to post dark dingy blurry ones where people look awful!
- Make people look good
- Make the effort
- Make it a habit
- Don’t just post because you have a photo – bad photos also show you in a bad light!
I’m not photographer but I do love taking pictures of people and food, so not only does conference photography help me get better with the camera – I am often asked to bring it with me. I launched the SEO World Tour on Pinterest (something I need to start up again) and started snapping!
There is nothing better than a host of people changing their profile picture to one of yours after an event. The last two events I have also brought props so that I can get some funnier photos (Movember Moustaches the UK Search Awards for example) but I might not been so bold before I knew people!
6. Think Like an Affiliate
No one is going to make your sales or work your leads for you, you have to find the angle and put the work in. Networking is the same – it’s not the job of the event organiser to make friends for you, they just provide the space and opportunity – it is up to you to act.I used to have five rules of affiliate marketing.
1. Turn up
2. Be bothered
3. Be prepared to spend some to make some
4. Find solutions and angles not problems
5. Persist /be relentless
Industry colleagues, like commissions, do not happen just because you put a few links out there – repeat exposure means that you are more likely to be remembered. Just try to be remembered for the right things as opposed to any bad behaviour at the after party!
7. Be Helpful / Arrange Things
People are busy and some people are just the type to want to go to an event but not have to organise anything – some may even say ‘see you there’ but then not come – that is all part of the networking cycle. Plans change, better offers come along, events are also where people do business so nothing is set in stone.
- Find out what is already organised
- Be the one that arranges the meetup if there isn’t one
- Organise a meal – people are much more likely to talk to you when you are breaking bread together
- INCLUDE PEOPLE – even if they are resistant to agreeing to anything – not being invited or not being told is worse than being invited by someone you don’t really know well to something you don’t have any interest in – sounds ridiculous? Trust me, it’s a small industry – at some point we are all going to become decision makers that appreciate gestures – I would much rather be known as the person that will know about X
8. Don’t Take Things Personally
Taking things personally is pointless so deciding that you won’t arrange anything ever again is just cutting your nose off to spite your face. Keep offering, keep arranging – worst case scenario is that you will be getting the train home early or drinking that bottle of wine on your own (how awful!) – just don’t be afraid to ask.
- Be Bold – I personally don’t care if I am ignored or I don’t get replies – I am the worst offender for leaving my social decision to the last possible minute so I ‘get it’
- Develop a thick skin – the #1 priority at a conference for many influencers is to do business – so expect them to do business, not be available and drop out at the last minute. They will still appreciate any invite.
9. Get Organised / Do Your Research
If you want to be everywhere it takes planning and budget. Find out what events are going on in 2014 for example, make a travel and conference planner – heck – even making a conference planner public is a useful post!
You can research events, organisers and industry profiles while watching the TV so there really is no excuse to NOT find out what is going on in your industry or who you should be talking to.
So Did it Work?
I think that the answer is a resounding YES. This year I received the highest possible accolade for essentially networking and was presented the European Search Personality of the Year Award for 2013.
For those that know me – YES I keep going on about it and YES I created a stupid group on Facebook so that the award has a personality of it’s own but I hoped it would be funny. Now people ask me if Wardy is coming! I am also a judge at the European Search Awards 2014 – (pinch me)
This is not something I had planned for or expected, I was merely going with it but feel that there is more to do. Now people know who I am – it’s time to step up and do some presenting at conferences. The thought fills me with dread and fear (hence the presentation course) but I am going to feel more fear and do it anyway – what’s the worst that can happen? (Noooooooooooooo)
So my end bit is this:
- Even if you feel you are being the most annoying person on the planet keep going – However, if you are the most annoying person on the planet, find out from your friends first ha
- It’s all PR (there is no bad PR – didn’t you know?)
- The skill to any art is to make it look easy – so be prepared to go above and beyond behind the scenes
- If it feels like a chore then networking may not be for you – but you can’t blame your industry/boss for not noticing you
- You can learn from everyone – so don’t dismiss anyone that has had the courage to come and talk to you
- You never actually know where your next lead is coming from – so be open to new people
- If I didn’t stress it enough – BE BOLD and DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY
- Be grateful – people don’t have to help you or like you, so when they do – give something back!
Much of this may only apply IF you want to be a visible part of your industry. I personally don’t feel at ‘home’ unless I am part of a community so it’s worked out well and I’ve made some incredible friends on the way.
If you want to start where I started – State of Digital is always on the look out for hardworking potential bloggers for great content in return for industry visibility and a lot of love & support from fellow bloggers!
Good Luck and feel free to stalk and pester me at conferences as I always aim to be welcoming… and a massive thanks to Bas for giving me the chance to be a part of something AWESOME