Just when you think something can't get any better, something sneaks in to surprise you. Back in April when we hosted our first ever Small Business Marketing Unleashed (SBMU) conference, we were astonished at how great the response was. The show was small, but the attendees ranted and raved about the quality of the speakers, the content and the networking.
We took those things to heart when we started planning our second show. While we knew it would be tough to top the environment of the first show, (you can't hardly beat a wooded forest retreat and a full scale replica of the Alamo) we were confident we could iron out the minor kinks, bring on a few more speakers and radically expand our list of workshops.
Bringing it Home
We hosted our first show in Houston, partly because it's Robert's home town. When it came time to decide on a fall location, it was only natural to suggest Columbus...the city Rachel and I call home. I've been wanting to show off my home town for ages, especially to those in the industry who lovingly refer to it as "Ohi-owa" and ask me if it's one of those "middle states." Yes, we're deep in fly-over country, but that's only because folks have no idea what they're missing.
It's Pronounced Koh-Sye, not Koh-see or Cah-see
I must have said that phrase at least a dozen times on Sunday night. I also got to remind quite a few people that our own COSI (Center of Science and Industry) was around long before the popular COSI restaurant chain. No matter how you pronounce it, COSI was clearly the one and only perfect place in town for our show kickoff.
We rented out the Gadgets exhibit and offered up a picnic style dinner of burgers and brats to set the mood for nearly 100 local marketers, small business types and social media mavens to bump shoulders with each other and an inflatable kangaroo. During and after dinner, attendees chatted it up while playing with everything from a giant erector set to a giant ball launcher to a "prove your strength" style contraption that taught the value of the pulley system.
Halfway through the night, we shifted course and gathered everyone together for our second SBMU speed networking event. Even the most shy among us ended up telling me what a great time they had and how many wonderful connections they made. After all, with just 3 minutes to chat, almost everyone can come up with something to say.
We capped off the night with another hour or two of play and a frantic bidding war to win the silent auction items we all had our eyes on. When it was all said and done, everyone walked away happy and COSI's community access fund finished the night about $2250 richer.
Despite the last busses leaving COSI to head home at 11pm, we had a packed house Monday morning. Even better, everyone was awake and ready to go! Matt McGee, Stoney deGeyter and Matt Bailey kicked things off with a little perspective in their "Common Sense Approach to Online Marketing" session that morning. The goal here was to remind attendees of the basic building blocks of online marketing and to help them understand the need to balance good marketing techniques with the reality of the time and budget constraints faced by small business owners.
Day one was broken up into two tracks; one focused on search engine marketing and one focused on more general online marketing. Our dynamic blogging team of David Wallace and Diane Aull was cranking out recaps like mad. If you missed them, here's a second shot.
While I didn't manage to make it into as many sessions this time around as I did at our spring show, I spent a lot of time listening in doorways. I managed to catch a fascinating conversation in Christina Kerley's Branding session that revolved around the challenges of a company that sells supplements for both people and animals.
I passed by the same room later that day to hear Matt Bailey saying "Ok, if you're an HP laptop user, I want you up here, if you're a Mac user, sit over in this row. Now I need Dell users in the back on the left." I laughed to myself as I realized he was practicing "audience segmentation" before continuing down the hall to listen to Michael Stebbins' brand new session on Universal Search.
While I don't think I made it through a full session (apart from my own) I heard quite a bit of chatter both in the hallways and while talking to attendees at dinner. Pretty much everyone was thrilled with what they'd learned.
On Monday evening, conference attendees strolled across the way to one of my favorite Columbus restaurants, The Polaris Grill. There they were treated to a fantastic sit down dinner, some sumptuous desserts and a variety of games and networking by Will Scott and the great team at Search Influence.
The weather was a sunny 70 degrees, which worked out great for us. Our crew had the grill's beautiful patio all to ourselves. After dining on yummy options like prime rib and grilled salmon, Rachel pulled some teams out of the crowd and let them challenge each other to "giant Jenga."
Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends opened up Tuesday morning with the SBMU keynote presentation. Since Anita is one of the foremost experts on small businesses and how they "do their thing," we thought she'd have some great insight into balancing the need to market with the need to run your business.
As a self-proclaimed "one woman publishing empire," Anita knows how to balance. She offered up ten great bits of advice for pushing your business online. You'll find them recapped in Diane Aull's coverage of "How to Drive Business Without Driving Yourself Crazy."
Once Anita had wrapped things up, it was time to switch gears and open up the doors to more classrooms. On day two, we like to get down and dirty with our SBMU attendees and their marketing plans. That means offering up four different workshops at a time to help walk them through the process of building and find tuning their marketing plans.
Diane and David, our fearless bloggers were joined by attendees and Search Engine Guide bloggers Scott Allen and Jackie Baker to turn in coverage for most of the day's classes.
We'd originally planned on ending the conference with a group Q&A that put all the speakers up on stage while the attendees fired questions at them, but the group was so relaxed and engrossed in conversation over their ice cream, we took a unanimous vote to continue with the mingling instead.
Overall, that's kind of how the conference went. We practiced what my father calls "rigid flexibility." When some Internet access issues caused morning delays, our speakers in the second time slot all agreed to give their audience the chance to go snag lunch and bring it back to the room to keep going.
In fact, I was astonished to see Michael Stebbins' entire email marketing class pause long enough to go pick up a plate of lunch before returning to the room and hunkering down for a session that ultimately lasted almost two hours. After the session I listened as Wayne Small said that session alone was worth the trip from Australia for the conference.
When Mack Collier and Christina Kerley couldn't do as many live blog reviews as they'd planned, they scheduled post-show phone consultations with attendees to make sure they still had time to get as much information as possible to attendees. Of course CK had already bribed her class by passing out chocolate, so she'd already built up brownie points.
Add in the fact that I practically had to pull Debra Mastaler and her class out the door so we could start the workshop after hers and it felt like a pretty successful show.
Doing it All Again
I'm not sure about Robert and Rachel and Vickie, but I'm personally finding our SBMU shows to be a bit addicting. We've got one of the best speaking teams on the conference circuit and every last speaker has commented on the innovative ideas and the fantastic conversation sparked by the crowd we draw. That means we're already in the planning stages for our next show.
For those of you who want to join us the next time around, look for April dates in Houston to be announced in the next month or so. We'll see you at the Alamo!
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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