Money Talks: Market Your Business with Speaking Engagements

image_freedigitalphotos-microphoneWhen I launched my marketing consulting practice in 1999, I started mostly from scratch. Up to that point, I’d successfully landed clients via direct mail, cold calling and networking, but I was eager to embrace thought leadership marketing in place of expensive direct mail campaigns and meeting prospects via random networking at business events.

I embraced public speaking, contacting business groups and websites and offering to deliver talks and teleseminars on marketing, branding and public relations. It took some effort, but within six months I’d spoken 10 times. I saw that public speaking not only established my credibility but were much more effective in generating sales leads.

My talks are always designed to deliver practical information without sales pressure, and they almost always result in audience members approaching me afterward to inquire about my services. To this day, I average one new client each time I speak. In some cases, public speaking has delivered major opportunities.

In one case, I traced $200,000 of consulting work to a single teleseminar in 2003. This talk was a standard presentation on thought leadership branding strategies. It attracted a Personal Fame Program client, a large corporate consulting contract, and later, an invitation to speak at a conference which led to a consulting contract with a major US company.

Read moreMoney Talks: Market Your Business with Speaking Engagements

7 Steps To Get “Slightly” Famous

freedigitalphotos_fame fortuneA few years ago, marketing was simpler. A professional service marketing strategy, for instance, could embrace public speaking, article publishing and book authorship as a marketing strategy likely to reach prospective clients. A small businesses marketing strategy could combine networking, community engagement and build a loyal customer base through word of mouth.

Today, an overabundance of social media noise and content marketing compete for your prospects’ attention. BtoB sellers struggle getting past voicemail as buyers conduct their own online research. Traditional advertising is less effective for professional services marketing and small businesses as consumers increasingly shun sales pitches, turn to online review sites for validation and expect companies to help them make informed decisions throughout the buying process.

Few would argue that the battle to win new clients and customers has intensified. But a key question remains: have the rules of small business and professional service marketing changed? Is social media now the most effective marketing strategy? Will content marketing, and seeking Facebook Likes, Twitter followers and LinkedIn contacts drive your small business or professional services marketing strategy as a primary channel for generating leads and closing sales?

The “Slightly” Famous You

Though the past few years have brought many changes, the underlying rules for building an effective small business or professional service marketing strategy remain the same. If you’re a professional service provider or small business owner, there really is a proven blueprint for rising above the noise and distinguishing your business from a sea of look alikes.

What’s the secret? Becoming just famous enough to make your name come to mind when prospects look for your product or service. When you become Slightly Famous in a strategically targeted market niche you won’t have to rely on advertising. You’ll be regularly featured in blogs, newspapers and magazines. You’ll get invited to speak at conferences. Your name will spread and you’ll grow your online presence.

Your Slightly Famous marketing strategy will help you get more business–not only more, but the right kind of business-and they don’t have to work so hard to get it. Although your efforts will take different forms, underlying them all are seven basic principles.

1. Targeting the best prospects

Building your business around your best prospects will help you avoid a poorly conceived marketing strategy. You must know who you want to reach and what their needs are. Instead of starting with tactics like content marketing and social media marketing, Slightly Famous marketers instead determine their most ideal target prospects first, which can be as simple as asking your best customers the right questions.

2. Developing a unique market niche

Slightly Famous entrepreneurs base their small businesses and professional service marketing strategy around carefully select market niches that they can realistically hope to dominate. Occupying a niche where your products or professional services fit the needs of a target market means you won’t  compete with similar businesses solely on price.

Dan Poynter started writing books about parachuting over forty years ago. Rather than try to fight for attention in general bookstores, he sold books to skydiving clubs, parachute dealers, and the U.S. Parachute Association. He developed a reputation in skydiving circles, and has enjoyed steady sales of his books for more than four decades. Best of all, he has the market all to himself!

3. Positioning your business as the best solution

If you’re a professional services provider or small firm surrounded by similar businesses, you must differentiate yourself with a strong positioning strategy. The process starts by evaluating your business features against competitors to ensure you deliver unique benefits to your target market and achieve the market position you want. Key questions may include:

  • Do you save people time or money?
  • Do you make money for people?
  • Do you apply proven processes or models?
  • Are you more expensive, less expensive?
  • Do you offer better or faster service?
  • Do you offer a stronger guarantee?
  • Do you use technology to respond faster to a customer’s needs?

You don’t need to be completely original as long as you offer something different from (and superior to) your competitors.

4. Maintaining your visibility

Your message must be out there, if not continuously, then often enough to keep your name alive in customers’ minds. This is especially important as prospects are inundated with marketing messages and can easily forget you.

Visibility is a cornerstone of every Slightly Famous business strategy. But instead of making the goal of growing unfocused lists of social media followers your top priority, Slightly Famous marketers are strategic. They place their core message in front of as many relevant target customers as often as possible.

5. Enhancing your credibility

Visibility, of course, is only a means. To produce results, visibility must be combined with credibility. This means that you need to embrace visibility strategies that display your distinction, competence, expertise, authority, and leadership.

Fred Tibbitts, Jr. founded Fred Tibbitts & Associates to help food and beverage companies reach global markets. He strategically cultivated his professional service marketing strategy around building a reputation in his industry as a well-connected and knowledgeable global beverage-marketing expert who is fluent in all the details of his business.

Tibbitts monitors global beverage trends on a daily basis while staying in contact with account managers at hotels and restaurants. He hosts a series of special events, “Fred Tibbitts Spring & Autumn Dinners with Special Friends,” in key markets, including Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York. Tibbitts also pursues content marketing by contributing a column to Hospitality International Magazine and numerous industry publications.

6. Becoming a thought leader

The Internet has created empowered consumers who lend their attention and loyalty to companies that demonstrate a top-down commitment to integrity and thought leadership.

Thought leadership marketing is a comprehensive strategy that combines public relations, developing an online presence, producing educational content marketing via blogs, white papers and articles, and demonstrating community involvement or by establishing your reputation as a generous contributor to your industry.

7. Establishing your brand and reputation

Slightly famous entrepreneurs use their smallness and specialty in ways that corporate giants can’t touch. They make sure their brands strike an emotional chord by bringing their business “soul” to the forefront of their marketing.

Brand recognition and reputation matter when it comes to generating sales leads. Your brand identity will become the touchstone of your entire business. It will ensure that all your marketing efforts pull in the same direction. You’ll waste less time, make fewer marketing mistakes, and stand out an increasing cluttered world.

Marketing Professional Services with Panel Discussions

flickr_tylerhoff-panel discussionI’m a big believer in marketing professional services with high-touch strategies that put you within handshaking distance of your best prospects. That’s why I organize panel discussions as a means for marketing my professional services firm.

Over the years, I’ve organized and moderated panels as a means of thought leadership marketing, including The Business Case for Eco-Social Responsibility and The Intersection of Business and the Environment, both of which reached socially responsible businesses (one of my most important target markets). These events were personally satisfying and presented opportunities to connect my business to industry influencers in targeted industries while showcasing my company before a room filled with hundreds of potential prospects.

Professional services firms (consultants, lawyers, coaches, etc) that practice thought leadership marketing can organize and lead panel events that deliver real value and avoid sales pitches. When it comes to marketing professional services, I’ve found few strategies as effective at drawing your target audience to you, in a non-selling way, while connecting your professional services firm with influencers, generating media coverage and positioning your business as a thought leader.

Case Study: Solomon McCown (SM&)

Helene Solomon, a principal in the Boston-based strategic communications firm Solomon McCown & Co., organizes an educational panel discussion series with the title, SM& Presents. Since 2003, the firm has organized over a dozen panel events. Panels are comprised of Solomon principals alongside guest experts, showcasing topics that align with the firm’s expertise in strategic communications while driving its thought leadership marketing strategy.

Solomon chose the panel discussion model for marketing professional services because she saw an opportunity to establish relationships with prospects, referral partners, and influencers in targeted industries. “We cover issues that position our principals as strategic thinkers to influential audiences,” says Solomon. “We invite panelists with name recognition, and a sphere of influence, which boosts the value of our events, enhances our own credibility, and creates audience and media appeal.”

Each event reflects the firm’s core focus area with a topic likely to resonate with potential clients. “As we conceive events, we apply a three-question test: What are our business objectives? What potential partners will lend credibility and a mailing list? Can we do something that no one else has done?” Solomon finds allies by researching business publications, trade associations and charitable organizations.

A recent SM& Presents panel titled, “Good Business Means Sometimes Having to Say I’m Sorry,” featured Ashley McCown, SM& executive vice president, a partner from a Boston law firm, the vice president of an insurance firm, and a principal of the American Red Cross. The publisher of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly moderated the discussion.

“This event helped us reach a broad range of industries, from corporate CEOs, to health care, to attorneys who, when faced with a client crisis, recommend strategic communications firms,” says Soloman Solomon. “Our partnership with Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly gave us access to their mailing list, which helped us reach the Boston legal community better and more cost-effectively than we could have on our own.”

The event attracted 150 participants, a perfect number to facilitate networking, and was covered in the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor. The event was so well received that it was repeated for the Health Care Section of the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Newton- Wellesley Hospital Leadership Forum.

Organizing Your Own Panel Discussion

While panel events can be a fun and powerful thought leadership marketing strategy, they require strategic planning. Here are several steps any profession firm can take to make panel discussions part of marketing professional services:

Select a Venue. It’s usually easier to plan a panel discussion with an existing venue rather than striking out on your own. Business associations, Chambers of Commerce, libraries and professional organizations not only provide a ready made venue, but often welcome ideas for events they promote to their own mailing lists.

Study events calendars for local organizations, write a short description of your panel topic and consider potential panelists. Then contact the event coordinator and pitch your idea. Most panels range from 60-90 minutes, which includes intros, the panel discussion and sufficient time for audience Q&A.

Choose an Experienced Moderator. Effective panel events need a skilled moderator who can make the panelists look good, shape and pace the discussion and smoothly take questions from the audience.

Scott Kirsner (a journalist and experienced moderator) says that industry experts, journalists or knowledgeable consultants with previous moderating experience can keep panelists on message and ensure the intended theme (which attracted the audience in the first place) is delivered as promised. Check out Scott’s article, “12 Guidelines for Great Panel Discussions.”

Identify Panelists. The ideal panel comprises people from related businesses and professions, but without much overlap. An accountant, for example, could team up with a retirement planner and an accounting software expert for a seminar about small business financial strategies. Panels of 4-5 people are ideal.

Plan Questions in Advance. This is not a time to wing it. Ideally, the moderator should arrange a conference call with all panelists and solicit their input around the overall theme and contribute in the choice and pacing of questions. A 60 minute panel must be carefully structured to ensure that questions are sufficiently covered. Don’t over prepare, but agree on overall topics and flow.

Keep intros short and focused on how each panelist’s expertise contributes specifically to the talk. Ensure there are plenty of mics (for the moderator and each panelist, as well as a microphone for audience questions). The moderator should follow a rough outline that moves each topic along at predetermined time points. Have somebody in back of the room hold up a “one-minute” sign, a “30-second” and a “stop” sign that everyone on the panel can see.

Involve Your Audience. Effective panel events involve the audience. Be clear about how you will handle questions from the audience. Try to make sure that at least one question goes to each person on the panel. If at the end of the presentation no questions are forthcoming, have someone in the audience ready with an initial question to get the ball rolling.

Marketing professional services with panel discussions will help your company rise above the social media noise. Your best prospects yearn for thought leadership marketing that provides education and true networking opportunities.