A Powerful Hack to Grow your Business and Personal Brand
Today I thought I’d share a brief piece of advice for anyone wishing to organically grow their connections and their business brand leverage. Oh, and you might also make some money from it.
So what is it? It’s a simple method combining the power of LinkedIn with the opportunity presented by networking events and keynote speeches. To spice it up a little, I’ll also share a couple of little tips on both personal brand salesmanship and on circumventing a few issues with LinkedIn.
You’ll need 5 things only: a free LinkedIn Account, a free Eventbrite account, the will to send messages and follow up with people, a text editor, and a relevant meetup community in your industry (or a venue you can use / hire).
I broke this process down in 5 steps, so let’s get started straightaway.
1 — Understand Events and Leverage Human Egos
Before we dive into the actual strategy, we need to remind ourselves one basic principle about dealing with people. This will help understand why this strategy works so well in the first place. The idea is as follows: Everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great. This particular sentence is actually a quote from Sigmund Freud and, although it’s possibly a generalisation about humans, it simply holds true most of the times.
I want to start with such quote because, if you are reading this, you are probably interested in either growing your business, or growing your public image — or both. Since you want to get somewhere and that in this article we are going to see how to use social connections to get there, it’s important to understand the “weapons” at our disposal.
Let’s start with this question: why do you think people speak at events?
This question actually can be read in two different ways, both equally important. The first is “why do people want to speak at events?” and the second is “why do people are invited or sent to speak at events?”
The answer to the first one can be found in Freud’s quote. People want to speak at events because it makes them feel important, because of their desire to be great. Having been public speaking and having hosted speakers at my own events for a while now, I think I might know a thing or two about this. We all aspire to be great or to make sure the causes we believe in are seen as great. This is the simple reason why people speak at public events and we’ll see in a moment why this is important.
The reason why people are sent or called on stage instead is twofold. Organisations sponsor events for brand visibility and send a speaker to present on their behalf, or speakers are invited due to their being recognised as experts by the wider community. That’s it. Although not necessarily, these two causes often coexist because key people in businesses that wish to promote their brand at relevant events tend to be seen as experts in the field.
Now that we are mindful of the above, we can use such knowledge to connect with people in all sorts of circles in a warm and direct way. A way that can bring value to both parties and that can be the beginning of a powerful and respectful connection.
2 — Associate with an Event Community or Organise Your Own
The first thing you need to do, now that you know the basic rules of the game, is to decide on a topic that would benefit yourself or your business. Then you need to organise an event around that. Ideally, you’d want a free event because paid events are harder to market and will consume a lot of your time and efforts. After all, if you are not in the event industry, you should not really be looking at events as a way to make money.
In theory, organising an Event is as easy as making a few simple but good-looking images using pictures from past events you’ve organised. If you have never entered the event world before, you can use an image search engine and a very simple picture editing/layering software like Preview on a Mac, PowerPoint on Windows, or Canva.com on any browser to come up with a few catchy images. If you are a snob, feel free to use Photoshop, but you don’t need that.
Once you have that, make a brief description of the event (not more than a paragraph) and high-level agenda with guest speakers “to be confirmed”. You can then also add a few paragraphs describing why people should come.
After this, you should find a suitable venue that, depending on where you are and the industry you are in, you might be able to get for free (or not). Added bonuses to attract an audience are some free drinks and food (like pizza or canapés) that you might want to offer.
Once you have a date (ideally 2/3 months in the future), a potential venue, and your simple event half-pager, you can use EventBrite to create the event and start inviting people to attend.
Of course, there is also an easier way to do it (and arguably more effective). You can associate yourself with an established community and offer them to work together on a specific event that is relevant to their audience.
If you are a business, this will likely cost you some money, but you would obtain a massive return on your investment since you’ll get to leverage their resources, audience, and marketing. If you are a willing individual wanting to gain experience and grow your connections, you’ll probably get away just by volunteering for the organisation of the event.
For example, I run two communities in London: Silicon Roundabout, which is the biggest startup and tech community in the UK, and the Holborn Property Meet, which was the fastest growing real estate meet in Central London last year. With these two we have often helped both businesses and individuals explode their connections, brand, and recognition through bespoke events we organised in partnership.
Meetup.com or EventBrite itself are the places to go if you want a partner along those lines: find a relevant and friendly community in your industry there and ask them if you can help them co-organise an event. You’d be surprised by how many will say yes and how much fun it will be.
3 — Prepare an Effective Message
Now that you have an event lined up, it’s time to have fun and e-meet people. This is where the fun really starts and it’s the core part of this Growth Hack.
These last 3 steps will be all about leveraging other people’s events, even big conference, to directly connect with companies, get some sponsorship money, and exponentially grow your connections through LinkedIn.
The beauty of this is that you will give back to all these parties along the way. You will not be the typical annoying spammer who connects to everyone that LinkedIn suggests, so that he/she can reach 1000 contact. You know, that person (usually male) who appears randomly amongst you contacts but no one has heard of nor respects. You will actually engage with these people and will personally benefit from the process, irrespective of the specific outcome of the interaction.
What you need at this stage is an opening message: craft it remembering the social rule we’ve started this article with. You want a simple and direct approach to people that you will later contact with this strategy.
It should not exceed the LinkedIn allowance for a Connection Note, which is both a practical need and a nice constrain to avoid boring people with too many words.
You can try with something like:
Hi NAME, I noticed your keynote at the XYZ conference and that NAME’S COMPANY is sponsoring the event. I organise EVENT ABC [in partnership with SO & SO] (biggest BCA network) and would love to know if you guys would like to [attend / present / sponsor] there on DATE
You can adapt it to suit your purposes but try to remember these 3 principles: (1) People love being individually recognised and the best way to do this is by simply calling them by name rather than with a general “Hello”. (2) Make sure you know your personal or your event’s unique selling points and mention at least one, such as that you are the first doing something. (3) Don’t be afraid to ask for sponsorships if that’s what you think the speaker’s company provided the other event.
4 — Leverage Other People’s Events and LinkedIn
Once you have a template, you can start hunting for people and companies you’d like to connect with. Search the internet for conferences, events, and meetups in your area that have beefy line-ups of speakers.
We search people this way because we will target only people that are relevant to what we want to do and that have a desire to speak in public.
After you’ve got some lists of names and their companies, you can use your message template as a basis for a personal message that you will use to connect with those people you deem relevant to your own personal growth or your business.
Since you’ve got an event going, you already have something very valuable to offer these individuals from the start. This is incredibly important because it means that you are not going to them as a needy person who wants to sell them something or just spam their profiles. You are going to them offering a valuable opportunity. What you get in exchange is a powerful personal connection — and possibly a link to a company that will sponsor your event or start to do business with your company. However, you are getting this only as a by-product of what you are giving them, not as the results of a pushy sale technique.
Remember: the more genuine you are about all this, the better results you’re going to get.
In practice, the process means that you will now go on LinkedIn and search for these speakers you would like to connect with. Once you find them, you will send them a version of your message that is customised for them as a Connection Note. This customisation will pay off because, again, if you expect people to respect you, you have to approach them individually and offer genuine value.
Golden Tip: if the person is hiding behind an in-mail firewall or is asking for you to type their email, here is something that will blow your mind. LinkedIn has an incredibly stupid way around these two “spam protections”. In one case you just need to click “More…” rather than “Message” and then select Connect from the list. In the second case you just type a random email such as firstname.lastname@example.org and this will suffice to grant you permission to connect.
5 — Follow-up, Confirm, Have Fun!
As time passes, you will see that people accept your connection but that not everyone replies to your messages. Sometimes this is due to people accepting connections on their mobiles, where it’s easy to just accept a connection without reading the accompanying note.
What you need to do in any case, when people don’t respond is to do the only thing you MUST always do in any form of marketing: you follow up. You can use calendar reminders, free tools like Trello, CRM software, or no tools at all to keep track of conversations, but you have to follow up. Don’t be too quick at messaging or you might look desperate and annoying. I usually use the following rule of thumb for both unsolicited follow-ups and replies to messages. After 2 days of silence I follow up and if I receive a message, I reply after 3 to 12 hours.
If you are pushing your game to get into the company, or if it’s the very speaker that asks you to talk to someone else, you might have to sell your idea to PR and marketing people, before any speech is scheduled.
It’s important you create a sense of scarcity and desirability when you enter in the actual talking phase with people. You can easily do this by mentioning in your message exchange about the other organisations and personalities you are in talk with about this event. Another tip I’ve got from experience is that it’s best to take the conversation out of LinkedIn by asking for the speaker’s email address after an initial interest being shown.
Finally, you want people to officially commit and you might want to do this by asking them to fill an online form by a certain date (always a few days away and no more). After they do this, you must include their name, company, and speech title on your event’s agenda. Then, you should share the event page with them so that they are mindful that you are counting on them for this event.
The truth is that you only need two to four speakers to host a decent event. This will make it very hard for you to fail, even if many people will decline for logistic or personal reasons.
Once you have your line-up (ideally with a backup), you can add yourself to it by delivering a presentation yourself. If speaking in public is not your thing, you can at least have your own promotional slides, banner, logos, and contacts featured at the event.
Lastly, you can now share the event and even invite other relevant people in the industry to attend. Again, many people will say no, but if you’ve been polite and genuine, you will find yourself with a massive list of connections.
That’s it! In less than a couple of months, you might have connected with hundreds of people in the industry you want to be known in. you might also have to literally select those that are allowed to come to your event.
What if not enough people register on Eventbrite to attend the event? You might ask. The answer is that if you’ve worked with an established community, this would not happen. If you haven’t, you can private message friends, work colleagues, WhatsApp or telegram contacts to invite people. Bear in mind though that for free events you should expect a dropout rate of between 20% and 40% when it comes to registered attendees actually turning up, but that the presence of free pizza and drinks can reduce this massively.
Remember to remind attendees with emails from Eventbrite about the line-up and the cool things they’ll enjoy at the event. Ideally you want to remind them every 3/4 days for the last 2 weeks.
Lastly, have fun! Organising or Co-Organising an event can be incredibly fun and it will give you the chance to literally explode your contacts. The sky is the limit here, as you can literally invite 500+ people on LinkedIn in one go, and then get to meet in person the ones that you’ll select for your event.