This guest post was written by Ben Woolf of ANDi, a UK-based mobile gaming hub. Techweek's National Director, Jenn Clamp, met Ben at London Techweek while on a research trip to Europe earlier this year.
The common misconception: Event attendance is all that’s necessary.
Starting a new business is anything but easy, and making people aware of your products and services is one of the first obstacles that start-ups face. People often think they should be actively engaging and promoting themselves by attending events. Whether it’s a large networking mixer, expensive conference, or smaller meet-up, money making class, or any other opportunity that may be relevant to your cause, most startups feel that merely turning up to events will immediately get their name, product and message out there.
General events really aren’t always worth it. Time is money. Be selective.
The setting start-ups typically find appealing is a general start-up mixer. These events that are targeted at anyone and everyone - from people wanting to run businesses (transitioning from work to #startuplife) and people who want to sell start-up services, or provide support.
Expect drinks and general chat, a speaker and a host.
However, these events can be a waste of time. There’s no sense talking to businesses that have nothing to do with yours, or to people with the same or less experience in business than you have. If you already know what kind of business you're running, you should aim to be at events that are either industry-specific or investor-related.
An exception to this rule is if you're attending a start-up mixer as a volunteer, exhibitor, speaker, partner or host.
How do you make the most of your events experience? Be proactive.
Do some good old-fashioned networking. Good relationships are everything in business. Find the relevant people and their companies from the 1,000 - 15,000 person audience, and succeed in making contact with them. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes you may have to wait by the VIP entrance for an hour until they’re available.
Authenticity and confidence are values that are always appreciated. And of course, do the one thing that makes all first dates successful ones (in the eyes of those who have never had any): be yourself.
Get noticed, which is why you want to pitch or speak. Simply being a ‘general attendee’ at events only makes you one of many, a small fish in a massive ocean. Until you meet everyone and get your name and face out there, people won’t know how truly awesome you and your business really are.
When having a notable position at an event, you are included on the site and handouts, immediately catapulting your name to the fore. It means people see your company first and foremost, making them more inclined to speak to you or ask others about you beforehand, look online at what you do, or approach you in person after you finish your piece.
Volunteering is the easiest way to get started.
Event holders are always looking for people to volunteer and help. Sure it means giving up hours of your day, but it will allow you to be backstage with staff of the company or event, helping attendees, and having VIP access to big names when you're not working. You’ll have more than enough time to meet people (such as other big speakers) when you’re off backstage, and when you’re finished. A tactic used before by us here at ANDi was volunteering at an event for an opportunity to sit with the CEO.
If you're getting an exhibition stand, make it worth it.
First, ensure the event is relevant, and understand the costs associated. Save money where you can: take any free exhibition space you can get, and ask the event to help print a banner for you, which can be huge. However, if you do have cash to burn, it would be wise to pay and be courteous. Events are a long-term and yearly process; paying your dues to event holders, striking good relationships with them and being a loyal customer may have its perks down the line.
As people approach your stand, you need to have a clear, easy-to-understand banner. Make sure you have a sign-up sheet or bowl for business cards, a way to demo your product (a prototype, device or laptop with pitch decks), and something to give out - these are all key features of successful stands.
Recently as part of an exhibition stand, ANDi collected some fidget spinners and gave them to new interns. Largely due to their age, and the addictive quality of cheap, revolving plastic, they were incredibly amused.
There’s also the option of creating competitions, people signing up at the stand. This allows you time to speak to people while collecting their contact details. Depending on the prize, the competition could get people talking about your stand around the event. The more you spread your name across the event and insert yourself into the conversation, the better.
Don’t talk to strangers. Be open but selective.
A lot of people you speak to will be wanderers - be careful not to spend too much time on them. Keep the conversation brief with those less relevant, leaving you time to share longer conversations and details with those relevant to your company.
Typically, when you devote time to someone, other people walk past and become interested. Bring them into the conversation. If you do not and remain secure and timid in your one-on-one, you may miss a crucial opportunity to speak with someone really interesting. Be polite, open, and enjoy yourself - it's infectious.
It may also be effective having an intern support your stand, as they could best explain the simpler parts of your business, passing attendees onto you for further, more in-depth questions. When two people are present, people tend to be more open - you end up learning more about your own company.
Get involved with investor and business matchmaking.
Most events want to bring people together with a range of apps relevant to their events, allowing you to connect with people beforehand so you can meet them during the event. It requires a substantial amount of due diligence and prior research, background checking the person, company, and their social presence, comparing them to your business needs.
Make the most of these opportunities, and research well to be most efficient with the people you meet. The more effort and research you put in, the more results you get out.
If you’re speaking or pitching...
Just like any other pitch. Be well prepared, speak to attendees beforehand, focus on your niche and your message, and enjoy your time participating and meeting people as an attendee with a little bit of status. It is the nicest of all the options to get yourself out there. It can take time to build a name for yourself in whatever industry you’re a part of.
If you have an insanely new and niche product and are proud of it, and someone refers you for a speaking opportunity, take it and run with it. It could be the best fast-track you could ever have to really make a name for yourself, and stand out from the crowd.
Most importantly of all, leave a lasting impression.
None of this is important without following up with the people who mattered- by email, by phone, or face to face.
Forming good relationships is what differentiates you and makes you and your business memorable. Despite the apparent uniqueness of your business to you, all investors see on paper is thousands of willing young entrepreneurs, with thousands of incredible ideas, making all the uniqueness you feel you have whithering away. Your story and personality, however, are what will stick in their minds longer than your resume ever will. Find your human side, and through these events, have some strong conversations and form some strong relationships, because who knows? Someday, you may look back on them and think “that is why I made it.”
Wishing you the best of luck in your events and business endeavours. Feel free to contact ANDi with any questions or queries, regarding the article or the business in general.